When the names don’t match up

We recently came across a brick wall that took many days of research to break down; we had the birth, marriage and death certificate for a great-grandmother who had been born in 1896. Not only were various forms of her Christian name used on all three, but her surname/maiden name, and the given name of her father, differed on all of the certificates! It made identifying the lady in question’s parents or any siblings tricky. Her age had been adjusted for the marriage certificate too, but this of course is far more common. Eventually after an exhaustive search of the 1901 census, we found her, with the surname used on her birth certificate but living with her mother and a man who turned out to be her maternal uncle – but whose surname she took and who she named as her father on her marriage certificate. Although living in an area we had not known to associate with this family, the town of birth given on the census – Aldershot – confirmed we had found the correct family. Her father, it transpired, was in the army, and so could not be located on the 1901 census, and this also accounted for her birthplace, as Aldershot was home to the Royal Horse Artillery garrison. Once this brick wall was broken, the line was traced back to the late 1700s on both her father and mother’s side, however it remains a mystery as to why she was so keen to cover up her real identity on her marriage certificate. It wasn’t that unusual for people to tamper with their names and dates of birth for a variety of reasons, which often leaves family historians scratching their heads for months or longer. I like to wonder what these cheeky ancestors would think of the confusion caused so many years later and of the effort we put in to trying to work out exactly what white lies they told. The census returns can be very helpful in solving these mysteries, if you have some clues about other family members. The witnesses on a marriage certificate, for example, might indicate a brother or sister or other family member who you can look for on the census.

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