One of the most frustrating things about being a genealogist is not being able to find an ancestor’s birth or baptism. Often these ‘brickwalls’ can be very frustrating, both in our own ancestry and for those of us who are professional genealogists, there’s nothing worse than having to tell a client you can’t find their ancestor/s.
So how can we break down those brick walls? Sometimes it’s just a matter of attrition, searching through parish registers in the area you know your ancestor was from and working outwards from there. Where was the last place you located them? Are they on the 1851 census? If so, that’s great as it will give their place of birth, but be warned these are not always accurate, my great great grandfather William Singleton born in 1836, gives three different places of birth on different censuses, in 1851 he gives his place of birth as Muncaster in Cumberland, in 1891 as Ravenglass in Cumberland and in 1881 & 1901 variations on Low Eskholme (Low Escombe and Low Estham).
In fact, these all turn out to be the same place, Low Eskholme is a farm in the parish of Muncaster & Ravenglass is the nearest village to the farm; so you can’t really take the information they provide on the census at face value!
If not on the census, then the next place to look is where were there children born, do you have a marriage for them? If they were married in the same parish the children were born in, were they themselves born there? Does the marriage entry give any clues? Does it just same that bride and groom were “of the same parish”, or does it give a clue to the parish they were from, e.g. on 15 Oct 1807 my 4x great grandfather John Park married Susannah Lubbock in Kelling in Norfolk, the information given is:
John Park of the parish of Thornage, widower and Susannah Lubbock of this parish, singlewoman
Thornage was a small village some 6 miles south west of Kelling, and until I found this entry I was unaware that he had been a widower. Unfortunately I didn’t find his baptism in the parish register for Thornage, but after a bit more research, I did find his first marriage to Martha Chapman in 1798 in Corpusty, Norfolk, which gave his parish as Briston, further south than Thornage, and I finally found his baptism in Briston in August 1773, breaking down one of my long held brickwalls.
If no clues are to be found in the marriage entry, what is the parish their children were born in? Using that as your beginning parish, try and find their death or burial, this may give an age which will allow you to work out how old they were when they died. For example the following burial entry in the parish of Easington in East Yorkshire gives age at death;
Rachel Relict of Israel Hobson, Easington, 20 May 1819, aged 84
This gives a rough year of birth for Rachel as 1735, giving a time period to start searching for her birth/baptism. She was married in Kilnsea, East Yorkshire in 1766, a frustrating both of this parish, or botp. Israel himself was buried in 1785, a full 34 years before his wife dies, however neither were born in Kilnsea or Easington.
Working from here, I downloaded a copy of the parish register map for the East Riding available on http://www.genuki.org.uk and started working my way out ward from Kilnsea/Easington to cover the parishes of Easington, Hollym, Roos, Owthorne, Winestead, Patrington, Keyingham, Ottringham or Halsham: all to no avail, to date I haven’t found either Israel or Rachel, but I do know where they weren’t born!
And that’s where the negative positive result comes in! It’s a negative result in that you haven’t found the ancestor you were searching for; but it’s a positive as well, as you now know where they weren’t born! If that makes sense. The thing to remind yourself as you ponder the growing lists of parishes you have searched through is that they must have come from somewhere.
Another good source of information can be wills. Though it’s less likely that our Ag Lab ancestors left wills, sometimes they did, and sometimes they name cousins, or siblings, whose births/baptisms you can find and which allows you to extrapolate where your ancestor fits in, even if you don’t find their actual baptism. Wills can also tell us about family dynamics, and may mention relatives from outside the county, this could point to where your ancestor was originally from.
Of course, there is always the possibility that they were not recorded in the parish register where they were born; were they non-conformist? Or were they baptised in the local parish register and it’s no longer available, sometime in the last couple of hundred years its gone missing. Sometimes, these missing registers can be reconstructed from the copy that was sent to the Bishop, known as Bishop’s Transcripts, these sometimes include baptisms that weren’t in the original register, that weren’t for some reason copied into the parish register, but were copied to the Bishop, and sometimes neither copy remains.
Sometimes, just as you thing you’re never going to find that missing ancestor, a fellow genealogist or new found cousin will point you in the right direction, that’s happened with me a couple of times, an ‘oh by the way, did you know X was really from Y, not Z as previously thought?” can often send the researcher scurrying off in another direction.
It’s difficult to remain positive when all you find are negatives, but keep searching, as you never know what you’re going to find that will push you in the right direction.