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Journey # 11: Back to Research With and Without Documents

One of the reasons I had the time to work on the website was that I was waiting for documents. I'd ordered two marriage certificates from the UK: one for great grandparents on my grandfather's side and another for great grandparents on my grandmother's side. I ordered the marriage certificates because they show the maiden name of the bride as well as the name of the father for both the bride and groom. This is one of the few ways to move back a generation with too-common names.

Now, I already had some tentative information from census documents, but I hadn't been able to confirm them. For example, my grandmother (Isabel Pickles) had parents named Samuel and Margaret Pickles. This I'd learned from census records. I knew from a marriage certificate I’d inherited from my father that Isabel's father's name was Samuel, which led me to find the family in the census: father Samuel Pickles with a daughter named Isabel who was in the right place and was the right age.

The census records show other members of the household including the mother, who was listed as Margaret. But census records don't give maiden names. They do give ages, birthplaces and occupations. I'd used that information to find Ancestry, FindMyPast and FreeBMD records showing a marriage for a Samuel Pickles to a Margaret Connell, however, the online records do not show the ages of the people being married. This makes it difficult to match to the ages found in census records.

The marriage certificate would give me the fathers' names as well as their occupations, the occupations of the bride and groom and addresses. A wealth of information in the world of genealogy.

The name Margaret Connell was common, and I'd found numerous people with that name living in Leeds in the census reports. Knowing her age, I'd managed to narrow the search down to two families. The first had parents named William & Mary. The second were Patrick & Bridget. Both sets had been born in Ireland. This played into the story my father told about one line of the family moving to Yorkshire from Ireland because of the potato famine. For some reason, I hoped that it would be Patrick & Bridget, but without more information, I had no way of confirming which family was my family – or did I?

A friend who'd done research on her family had given me a piece of advice that I didn't understand the significance of at the time. She said, "Sometimes you need to go out of your way to eliminate people." Of course, this was obvious, wasn't it? If someone doesn't fit the profile, you eliminate them, right? But I wast actually doing that, yet. When I took that advice, I was able to move on using online sources, without having to order more documents.

A volunteer at the genealogy centre suggested that I look on the census reports for people with the same name living in the same area as my great grandparents. She explained that couples, particularly newlyweds, often lived near their parents. Life was difficult in the 1800s and with a house full of young children, having relatives nearby could be important to survival.

Margaret Connell had married Samuel Pickles in 1893 and they had their first child in 1894. I'd found the family in the 1901 and 1911 census reports. So I returned to the census documents in search of people named Connell on the same page. I found none. So I searched for my two sets of candidate parents in the census surveys for those years to see if either lived nearby.

I found both families, and to my surprise, I found one of the Margaret Connells still living with her parents, William & Mary, in the 1901 census. How can this be? 'My' Margaret Connell had been married for years and was living with her husband and children in 1901 — I had the census document to prove it. She couldn't still be "unmarried" as the census noted and living with her parents.

It was breakthrough, not only in my research but also in my reasoning. I was able to eliminate William & Mary from the running as great-great grandparents. I was 99% sure that Patrick & Bridget were 'my' Margaret's parents. Sure enough, when the marriage certificate arrived there was the name Patrick in the father-of-the-bride field.


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