My Collection of Certificates with Inaccurate Information

A mixture of clerical error, guesses and lies!

When a birth, marriage or death certificate is purchased one hopes that it will contain accurate information about the event, but that is very often not the case. From my own meagre collection of about 40 certificates about a quarter of them have known inaccuracies! That does not include minor variations in the spelling of a name such as READ / REED, and a typing mistake which reads Gravesned instead of Gravesend.

Starting with my own marriage certificate; we were married on 22nd March 1969. The certificate, handed to us on the day, is dated 26th March 1969 and it was only quite recently that I noticed the mistake. Like most ministers, the vicar had filled in the details beforehand ready for all concerned to sign on the day. It just happens that ours was entry number 26 in the book which probably explains the error. Although Chalk PRs are on CityArk the marriages only go to 1940 so I can't look at the church register and I don't wish to spend £9.25 on a GRO certificate just to see if the error happened more than once!

One other small point with this certificate is my signature. Before I was married I signed Brenda Bowles and afterwards, having aquired a long surname, it became an increasingly illegible BJ Paternoster. However, on the day the vicar insisted that I signed as BJ Bowles, something I'd never done before and haven't done since!

And yet another error - the GRO index shows Terry's first name as Terrence, it should be Terence.

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Another certificate with an interesting bride's signature is that of my 2xgt grandparents George Roots BOWLES and Hannah RUMBOLD. She wrongly signed in her new married name: Hannah Roots Bowles. From a family history point of view I was delighted to find that, because it confirmed that they thought of Roots as being part of the groom's surname rather than a given name. Subsequent research has shown that the groom was baptised in 1824 as George Roots, baseborn son of Mary HARRIS and the Bastardy order shows that his father was George ROOTS. A few months later Mary HARRIS married George BOWLES and had several more children before her death in 1839. The 1841 census shows 16 year old George HARRIS living with his step-father but he is enumerated after his younger BOWLES half-siblings. He married as George Roots BOWLES and wrongly named his step-father John BOWLES as his father. So two errors on that certificate!

1847 Marriage solomnized at The Parish Church in the Parish of St Bride In the City of London
No When Married Name and Surname Age Condition Rank or Profession Residence at the time of Marriage Father's Name and surname Rank or Profession of father  
289 Feb 15 George Roots Bowles Full Bachelor Smith Frittenden Kent John Bowles Smith  
Hannah Rumbold Full Spinster St Bride Charles Rumbold Labourer  
Married in the Parish Church According to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church after Banns By me  
              Charles Marshall. Vicar  
This Marriage was solomnized between us George Roots Bowles In the presence of John Milsted  
Hannah Roots Bowles
Charlotte Rumbold  
Certificate issued by GRO  

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Subsequent to his marriage my gt gt grandfather was George Roots BOWLES for the baptism of his eldest child and then just George BOWLES in baptism registers, trade directories etc until his son, another George BOWLES, registered the death of George Harris BOWLES in 1880. This is the only known use of Harris as his middle name. I suspect that the son knew that his father was illegitimate and knew his grandmother's maiden name, but didn't know anything about his biological grandfather. However, he should have recorded the death of his father by the (formal) name by which he was known. He also signed the register with an X, but I know from his own marriage certificate that he was able to write

Registration District Hollingbourne
1880 Death in the Sub-District of Headcorn in the County of Kent  
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No When and where died Name and surname Sex Age Occupation Cause of death Signature, description and residence of informant When registered Signature of registrar  
77 Twenty
Ninth
May
1880
Headcorn
George Harris Bowles Male 56 Blacksmith Tuberculosis
Certified by
J N Bredin Physician
X The mark of
George Bowles
Son
Present at the death.
Headcorn
Fourth
June
1880
Edwin Chittenden Registrar  
Certificate issued by GRO  

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Full Birth certificates show the mother's maiden name - if she has one. A maiden name is the name by which a woman is known, at the time of her first marriage. It is not necessarily her birth name, and a woman who has never been married does not have a maiden name.

For as long as I can remember I have known that my Granny's maiden name was Slater and that her first husband, who died in WW1, was a Mr Thompson. Both my parents went through life with only short birth certificates so when I started researching her mother's family I needed to know the spelling of Slater - Granny was Irish so there was the possibility of all sorts of extra letters! - and so I bought my mother's birth certificate, which shows her mother's maiden name as THOMPSON which, as I well knew, was Granny's first married name. My Grandad was the informant, and I guess he was asked "what was your wife's name before you were married?" rather than the correct question "what was your wife's name at the time of her first marriage?" The registrar probably just didn't ask if she had been married before. It was sight of my uncle's birth certificate which showed the spelling to be SLEATER.

Registration District Bath
1928 Birth in the Sub-District of Twerton in the County of Bath CB
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No. When and where born Name, if any Sex Name and surname of father Name, surname and maiden surname of mother Occupation of father Signature, description and residence of informant When registered signature of Registrar Name entered after registration  
311 ThirdAugust
1928
9 Lymore
Terrace
UD
Edna Girl Frank
Charles
ESCOTT
Laura
ESCOTT
formerly
THOMPSON
Army
Pensioner
F C Escott
Father
9 Lymore
Terrace
Bath
Seventeenth
August
1928
W Millard
Registrar
___________  
Certificate issued by GRO  

I know of other examples in my family where the mother's first married name is shown as her maiden name. Bath & North Somerset Register Office have searchable online indexes. By holding down the control key (Command on Mac) it's possible to bring up all instances of a surname for numerous years, and I have downloaded and printed all the ESCOTT births.

In 1841 unnamed twins, son and daughter of Robert and Elizabeth ESCOTT formerly BAYLIS were born and in 1842 Elizabeth ESCOTT was born to the same parents. Between 1844 and 1854 seven ESCOTT children were born to a mother with the maiden name LITTLE. I have the 1854 certificate of gt grandfather Joseph Albert ESCOTT which shows his mother to be Elizabeth ESCOTT, late BAYLIS, formerly LITTLE. I'm pretty sure that the 1841 and 1842 births were to the same couple and that the same error of not asking for the mother's name at the time of her first marriage was made by the registrar.

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The marriage certificate of Robert ESCOTT and Elizabeth BAYLIS shows that she was a widow and I know from the birth certificate of her son Joseph Albert that her maiden name was LITTLE, although on the marriage certificate her father is named as William BAYLIS. This I suspect is an error. The certificate is is a photocopy type from the GRO and I have since written to the local register office in Bath, and by return of post I received confirmation that the GRO certificate is identical to the record in the register they hold.

1841 Marriage solomnized at The Parish Church in the Parish of Trinity In the County Somerset
No When Married Name and Surname Age Condition Rank or Profession Residence at the time of Marriage Father's Name and surname Rank or Profession of father  
43 February
10
Robert Escott full
age
Bachelor Servant 18 Norfolk
Crescent
Henry Escott Gardiner  
Elizabeth Baylis full
age
Widow Servant 18 Norfolk
Crescent
William Baylis Servant  
Married in the Parish Church by Banns According to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Church of England By me  
            T Woodmand
Curate
 
This Marriage was solomnized between us Robert Escott In the presence of Mary Ann Little  
Elizabeth Baylis Thomas Morgan  
Certificate issued by GRO  

Apart from a straightforward clerical error the only other possible explanation would have been that the bride, and her sister Mary Ann LITTLE who was a witness to the marriage, were illegitimate, but their father's name was known to them and that the bride's first marriage was to a paternal cousin. However, the baptisms of Elizabeth, and two sisters, in Bath Abbey all show the father was actually William LITTLE. So this is a clerical error; maybe the question asked was "your father's name?" reply was "William" and vicar/clerk wrote William and then just copied the bride's surname as it was at the time.

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The biggest clerical error of all is the certificate I have for a marriage that did not occur! According to the GRO certificate Robert TURVEY and Hannah WHEELER were married at St Helen's church in Worcester on 14th March 1842, but neither of them signed or marked the register and there were no witnesses. Research in the parish registers has shown that there were no marriages in St Helen's church on that date, but if there had been it would have been entry number 171.

1842 Marriage solomnized at The Parish Church in the (33)
parish of St Helen
In the City of Worcester
No When Married Name and Surname Age Condition Rank or Profession Residence at the time of Marriage Father's Name and surname Rank or Profession of father  
65 March 14 Robert Turvey 26 Bachelor Gardener Fish Street Thomas Turvey Labourer  
Hannah Wheeler 27 Spinster   Edward Wheeler Labourer  
Married in the parish church According to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established church after Banns By me  
            J H Wilding Rector  
This Marriage was solomnized between us   In the presence of    
     
Certificate issued by GRO  

There was a Robert TURVEY-Hannah WHEELER marriage in nearby St Alban's church. The rector for both churches was J H Wilding, and presumably he filled in, and pre-signed, the wrong register, that of St Helen's, and then compounded the error by forwarding the unsigned entry to the Registrar General. He also failed to forward a copy of the St Alban's register to the Registrar General.

The reference (33) above the words parish of St Helen refers to page 33 in the St Alban register which shows:

1842 Marriage solomnized at The parish Church in the Parish of St Alban In the City of Worcester
No When Married Name and Surname Age Condition Rank or Profession Residence at the time of Marriage Father's Name and surname Rank or Profession of father  
65 March 14 Robert Turvey 26 Bachelor Gardener Fish Street Thomas Turvey Labourer  
Hannah Wheeler 27 Spinster   Edward Wheeler Labourer  
Married in the Parish church According to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church after Banns By me  
           

J H Wilding, Rector

 
This Marriage was solomnized between us X The mark of Robert Turvey In the presence of F Fletcher  
X The mark of Hannah Wheeler X the mark of Mary Fletcher  
Certificate issued by Photocopy of film of St Alban church register in Worcester record office  

This marriage entry is not in the GRO indexes, and the 'certificate' is a copy from the Church register held in Worcester Archives.

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Ages on certificates are often wrong, especially on death certificates where the informant just made a best guess, and often gave rounded ages like 60 or 70. Benjamin SAUNDERS was said to be 80 when he died in 1848. As yet I don't know who the informant Chs, HICKMOTT was, but I doubt if he really knew Benjamin's age. In 1841, when the census enumerators were supposed to round ages down, the enumerator who recorded Benjamin and his family wrote down the actual ages told to him. Benjamin SAUNDERS was recorded as being 68, so assuming he had it right, by November 1848 he would have been 75 or 76.

I do have an example of the informant originally giving a wrong age at death and then going back to have it corrected. Sukey HOLDAWAY died on 19th February 1865 and her death was recorded the next day by her husband James who was unable to read and write. Two days later James and his married daughter Elizabeth MUNN returned to the register office to say that the stated age of the deceased was 72 and not 74 as on the certificate. A margin note was inserted in the register which reads: "In No 373 Col 4 for "74" substitute "72" Corrected on the Twenty-first February 1865 by me George Cressay Hammond, Registrar, in the presence of X the mark of James Holdaway and E Munn. Both in attendence".

Registration District Gravesned
1865 Death in the Sub-District of Gravesend in the County of Kent  
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In No 373 Col 4 for "74" substitute "72" Corrected on the Twenty-first February 1865 by me George Cressay Hammond, Registrar, in the presence of X the mark of James Holdaway and E Munn. Both in attendence
No When and where died Name and surname Sex Age Occupation Cause of death Signature, description amd residence of informant When registered Signature of registrar
373 Ninteenth
February
1865
19 Peppercroft
Street
Milton
Sukey
Holdaway
Female 74
years
Wife of
James
Holdaway
A Gardener
(Journeyman)
Emphy Sema
of Lungs
Bronchitis
Certified
The mark of
X James Holdaway
present at the death
19 Peppercroft Street
Milton
Twentieth
February
1865
Geo Hammond
Registrar
Certificate issued by GRO

This is the only instance I have found where the informal first name Sukey was used. In all other documents she is Susan or Susannah.

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Incorrect ages in marriage certificates are much more likely to be deliberate, although some people were not really sure how old they were. On the 1887 marriage certificate of George BOWLES and Emily REED her age is correctly shown as 23, George was said to be 30, but he was baptized 5th May 1851 and his birth registered in July-Sept 1851, so was at least 36! Having found a much younger bride he simply adjusted his age, which was wrong in most of the censuses too!

The other marriage certificate I have with a wrong age is that of my grandparents who were married in Belfast. I know from her birth certificate that my Granny, Laura THOMPSON formerly SLEATER was born in December 1890, but she stated that she was 30 in April 1923 when she was in fact 32. The groom's age is correctly stated as 34, so no obvious reason for telling a fib. On her first marriage certificate of 1913 she was just of full age, and I remember that as an older lady she never really knew how old she was!

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A quite common source of inaccuracy on birth certificates is, perhaps not surprisingly, the name of the father. In the past when there was a great deal of stigma attached to illegitimacy many people did all they could to appear 'respectable'. In the course of indexing old birth registers at Medway Register Office I have seen lots of entries which were incomplete or corrected because the registrar discovered that the informant was lying, but no doubt many people did get away with their lies. If the informant was not known to the registrar and there were no give-away signs such as blushing or hesitancy then the registrar had to accept the information as given to him.

In January 1914 Jacob Edwin PATERNOSTER registered the birth of his son Jacob Edwin Arthur born to Lily PATERNOSTER formerly NEAME in December 1913.

Registration District Sheppey
1913 Birth in the Sub-District of Minster in the County of Kent
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No. When and where born Name, if any Sex Name and surname of father Name, surname and maiden surname of mother Occupation of father Signature, description and residence of informant When registered signature of Registrar Name entered after registration  
55 Sixteenth
December
1913
6 Cross Street
Sheerness
UD
Jacob
Edwin
Arthur
Boy Jacob
Edwin
Paternoster
Lily
Paternoster
formerly
Neame
Leading
Stoker
Royal
Navy
J E Paternoster
Father
HMS 'Queen'
Harbour
Sheerness
Twenty
sixth
January
1914

Richard
Ross
South

Registrar

   
Certificate issued by GRO  

In July 1916 another son, George, was registered as born to the same couple but this time the mother was the informant. I do think that Jacob Edwin PATERNOSTERwas the father of Jacob Edwin Arthur, but I'm pretty sure that he was not George's father. On George's birth certificate his father is stated to be a stoker on HMS Alert, but his Naval record shows that he was shore based at HMS Pembroke until 9th September 1915 when he joined HMS Alert. A month later (nine months before George was born) he would have been half way around the world! He transferred to HMS Dalhousie on 24 May 1916. The relationship between Jacob Edwin PATERNOSTER and Lily NEAME had almost certainly ended by the time she registered George's birth and gave out of date information as well as lying about her maiden name.

Registration District Strood
1916 Birth in the Sub-District of Strood in the County of Kent
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No. When and where born Name, if any Sex Name and surname of father Name, surname and maiden surname of mother Occupation of father Signature, description and residence of informant When registered signature of Registrar Name entered after registration  
437
Sixth
July
1916
25 Bill Street
Road
Frindsbury Intra
Rochester UD
George Boy Jacob
Edwin
Paternoster

Lily Patternoster
formerly
Neame

Stoker
(Royal
Navy)
HMS
"Alert"

L Paternoster
Mother
25 Bill Street Road
Frindsbury Intra

 

Ninteenth
July
1916
C A Crossland
Deputy
Registrar
   
Certificate issued by GRO  

This certificate, which is a scan of the GRO register, shows the father to be Jacob Edwin PATERNOSTER and the mother Lily PATTERNOSTER (with double 't'). A cousin has a local register office certificate of the same birth and the mother's name is Lily PATERNOSTER, so definitley a transcription error in the GRO register.

We are 99.99% sure that Jacob Edwin PATERNOSTER and Lily NEAME were never married. In 1920 when Jacob did marry he used his full name Jacob Edwin Spencely PATERNOSTER. He was bachelor, and his bride Ada Ingram SPENCELEY was his first cousin so he was known to her family and she to his. There is no way that her family would knowingly have allowed bigamy, and older family members who remember his mother say that she certainly would not have condoned bigamy either. Lily NEAME married, as a spinster, to Edgar Willliam WILLS in 1924 although the two boys grew up using PATERNOSTER as their surname.

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These are just the known errors on the certificates I have. The other certificates might have errors which I don't know about!

BMD Certificates
1837-1969
Birth Certificates
1837-1969
Marriage Certificates
1837-present
Death Certificates
1837-1969



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