‘Dead-Ends’ in your Family Tree

By Martin Flint

I’ve been researching my own and other peoples’ family trees for many years, and like everybody else, I have often come up against ‘dead-ends’.  This obviously is a common occurrence as we go back further in time, but it can happen in the mid and late 19th century despite having Censuses and Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths.

I want to concentrate here on the times before 1837 where the main source of genealogical information is the Parish Register.  No, there are a whole host of reasons why many Family Tree ‘dead-end’ occurs, but two of the main ones are because of variations in the spelling surnames, and incomplete information in the Parish Registers.

But what happens when your direct ancestor just appears in a village, by himself with no parents or siblings. This has happened in my research a number of times, the most frustrating being that of my earliest ancestor with my own surname. Jermyn Flint seems, according to the Bishop’s Transcript and the Parish Register for Deopham, to have wandered into this small Norfolk village in the mid 18th century and got married in 1751. He brought no parents or siblings with him, and there’s nothing in the Parish Register denoting his place of origin. His date of birth can only be approximated from his burial record in 1790, stating he was 61 years of age.

So what do you do when faced with this (apart from giving up or tearing your hair out!)?  Well the first thing to understand is that in the 18th century, most people didn’t move too far from their villages of origin; the real mobility started in the 19th century when people increasingly moved to the factories in the towns and cities, as Britain changed from an agricultural-based economy to an industrialised one.

So, when you can’t find any clues to such an ancestor’s origins get out a road map and draw a circle 5 miles (to scale!) around the village/town and then start to check, in the Mormon International Genealogical Index (IGI), on www.FamilySearch.org,
the records of all the villages/towns about 5 miles away.

If you find any people with the same surname in these Parishes, it might be worth getting the microfilmed Parish Register from your local Mormon Family History Centre to check the IGI results. Remember the IGI is a ‘secondary’ historical source and it is not always accurate or complete.

However, there will be parishes for which there are no microfilms and therefore no IGI records (many vicars objected, on religious grounds, to letting the Mormons microfilm their old Parish Registers).  Then you will need to visit the County Record Office (or get someone to go there for you) to look at the ‘missing’ Parish Registers. I still couldn’t find Jermyn Flint this way, but I did discover where his daughter-in-law, my great-great-great grandmother, came from!

What if you still can’t find any trace? There are three main options.

* Extend the search to 10 miles from the ‘primary’ site – and see if there are any more Parishes not covered by IGI, and then see if the County Record Office has these registers.  If you still draw a blank you extend your search to 15 miles. Personally, I wouldn’t extend my search much beyond 15 miles, or soon you’ll be looking at every Parish in the country!

* You may strike gold by searching the poor law records of the ‘primary’ Parish at the County Record Office.  In the days before the modern welfare state, real poverty (no home, no food) was never far away from most families.  What poverty relief was available was provided by the Parishes and had to be funded by the better-off rate payers, who were not all that keen on providing money for people from outside their Parish.  Therefore, the Parish Overseers, concerned that people might become a burden on the rates in bad times, often demanded proof that of the ‘immigrants’ original Parish where they could be sent back to.  The settlement examinations in Quarter Sessions records and the settlement certificates in the Parish Chest may provide the vital clues about your ancestor’s migration. Most of these records are held in local County Record Offices.

* Finally, keep looking at Genes Reunited (www.GenesReunited.com) – someone else may come up with just the record you’re looking for.


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