My husband's family came to the US from England; some of the family stayed in the US, and some returned to the UK. I have many records from my husband's grandfather's generation that indicate his great-grandparents were Arthur Knowles and Fanny Cole from Slapton in South Devon. (Most of the records associate the family with Slapton -- one curious discrepancy is that for their two sons, their WWI Draft Registration cards say their birthplace is Slapton, but the WWII Cards say they were born in Plymouth.)
This marriage registration found on FreeBMD is the most likely candidate I've found for a marriage so far:
Marriages Mar 1885 (>99%)
- Cole Fanny Stoke D. 5b 538
- Knowles Arthur Stoke D. 5b 538
- Palmer John Stoke D. 5b 538
- Worden Grace Stoke D. 5b 538
Stoke D. is the Stoke Damerel Registration district.
This was unexpected -- if Arthur and Fanny had married in Slapton, the marriage would have been registered in the Kingsbridge Registration District. Many of their children were baptised in Slapton, and one of their sons who died in Massachusetts is listed in the Slapton Burial register. Most of the children's births are registered in the Kingsbridge Registration District.
Some years ago, another researcher was kind enough to look in the Devon Record Office but was unable to find a record for a marriage between Arthur and Fanny. Since FindMyPast recently put a group of Devon Parish Records online, I thought I would try again. Here are the coverage charts for the Devon Parish Records and the Plymouth Marriage Register.
I was hoping I could find parish records about their marriage online, instead of just assuming "this is about the right time and the names are right, so these must be the right people!" and ordering a GRO certificate sight unseen. (Plus as AdrianB38 reminded me, the parish register would have their signatures, which I could compare to the 1911 Census.)
FindMyPast has the banns and parish records for Arthur's second marriage in 1907 (Fanny's death is registered in 4Q 1905) but not for his first marriage.
Why can't we find the parish record for this marriage? If it is not available online, might there be a record offline, and if so, who might hold it?
The Devon County council's website has a page explaining the Coverage of Devon parish registers online. That page has two lists, one of parishes whose registers have not been digitised because the incumbents did not give permission, and one of parishes that are not on Find My Past because they have not been digitised yet.
They also advise checking the Parish Register List for information about gaps in coverage.
For Stoke Damerel, the chart says "STOKE DAMEREL see PLYMOUTH (Devonport)" and the page of parishes that begin with the letter P obligingly lists a group of parishes that are part of PLYMOUTH (Devenport). Marriages for Stoke Damerel are listed for a date range of 1595-1987.
Family Search has some marriages from Stoke Damerel itself online, but the most recent batch listed on Archer Software's list of IGI batches is:
M052421 Marriages 1808-1884 21905 Single
which would not include records from 1Q 1885. I haven't checked the entire parish list from the PLYMOUTH (Devonport) region against the IGI batches yet, but the fact that I haven't found the record on FamilySearch suggests that a similar situation may exist for other parishes (the batches run out before 1885). I also need to check the parishes listed in this region against the list of parishes that have not been digitised yet.
Another possibility is that the marriage was recorded in Non-Conformist records since in the 1871 Census, Arthur's father was listed as a boot and shoe maker, with "Methodist Preacher" written on the line below; in 1891, Arthur's brother Thomas Henry is listed as "Thatcher and Local Preacher". However the Devon County Council's guide gives a date range for marriage registers "from 1898" and that does seem to be the case for most of the listings in their table, though there is one entry that might have coverage from the right date range:
PLYMOUTH: St Georges Terrace Methodist Church, Devonport Marriages 1865-1988 P.2157/13-15
A direct search of the Plymouth Marriage Register on Find My Past for men named Arthur yields 115 results, none of which are a match (there are some records with no surname). Searching the Devon Marriages for Arthur with no surname yields 7,196 results, all of which have surnames. (Name variants were checked/ticked for all searches.)
What other information besides the banns could I find, if I have all the information from the GRO certificate?
Presumably a marriage took place or the GRO wouldn't have a registration for it.
- 1911 Census: Arthur (age 48) born Slapton, Devon [census place sometimes mistranscribed as 'Hapton' but the image says Slapton] (with second wife and younger daughters born in USA, youngest daughter born in Slapton)
- 1901: Arthur is in the US; 1900 US Census (age 37) born 'England'
- 1891 Census: Arthur (age 27) born "England Devon" (with Fanny and children; all others in household are "Slapton Devon")
- 1881 Census: Arthur (age 18) born Slapton, Devon (servant at Prospect House)
- The rest of Arthur's family in the 1881 Census, in Slapton Village
- 1871 Census: Arthur A (age 8) born Devon, Slapton
- birth registration Arthur Albert Knowles 1Q 1863 in Kingsbridge Reg District
- baptism on 15 Jan 1863 at Slapton, St James the Greater, for an Arthur Albert Knowles, the son of Thomas and Sarah Anne. Father's occupation is shoemaker; name and occupation are consistent with the 1871 Census.
Arthur's other records show Arthur E. Knowles (his daughter's passport application) and Arthur Ernest Knowles (2nd marriage, and several of the children's baptism records); the likely death registration lists "Arthur E F A Knowles" (Totnes 4Q 1918) which is consistent with the date of death given in his daughter's passport application. If this is indeed the right person, the F may stand for Frederick since that name has appeared in the family several times (e.g. Arthur's son, my husband's great-uncle Fred).
- death registration 4Q 1905 (same quarter as birth of youngest daughter) in Kingsbridge Reg District
- 1901 in Massachusetts; 1900 US Federal Census says born 'England'
- 1891: Fanny (age 25) born "Slapton Devon"
- 1881: Fanny (age 18) working as servant at Farlane, born "Slapton Devon" [note age doesn't match up with the other records]
- 1871: my best candidate family is Fanny (age 6) born "Slapton Devon" in the household of Nicholas Cole (labourer) and his wife Harriet, enumerated in Brixham (BOOHAY COTTAGE).
- baptism 06 Nov 1864 at Slapton, St James the Greater, for a Fanny, daughter of Nicholas (labourer) and Harriet
birth registration 4Q 1864 in Kingsbridge Reg District
There is an 1881 Census record for a Nicholus and Harriet Cole in Brixham at Boohay cottage that is consistent with the 1871 Census record (Nicholas born Slapton, Harriet born Somerset).
(P.S. my husband reminds me that it's possible that Arthur and Fanny never got married at all, in which case the Stoke Damerel registration might be for another couple altogether. I think I did do some cursory searches to find historical records that had a John Palmer associated with a wife Grace, but my earlier notes were lost. No obvious records with an Arthur married to Grace and a John married to Fanny jumped out at me at that time, or for other couples named Arthur and Fanny.)
The front page bears the following disclaimer:
This is still a work in progress, and not all the data needed for all marriages is yet available. New data is continually being added.
I got the following result:
Marriage Locator Search Results
GRO Index: 1885 quarter 1, volume 5b, page 538:
Sorry, we cannot locate the church for this marriage. The entry is located between entries for Stoke Damerel RO (RD: Stoke Damerel) and Crediton (RD: Crediton).
Marriage Locator - the principles discusses the problem of coverage for the locator:
Because this project started with a particular focus towards the East End of London, the records held are richest for the RDs of Stepney, Mile End, St George in the East, Whitechapel, and Shoreditch for the years 1837 to 1911. Although our volunteers have contributed data from other areas and other years, coverage elsewhere can be still patchy ... but is increasing - we currently have approaching half a million (over 465,000) entries!
So if your research happens to be in the area covered by the volunteers, it seems as if the locator could be a useful cross-check.
I should also note that during a recent search, for one GRO registration I checked FreeBMD itself, Ancestry's database of FreeBMD results, and FamilySearch.org's version of FreeBMD's results, and got three different answers! Looking at FreeBMD itself, I was able to look at the image, and I agree with the FreeBMD transcribers. I had heard about problems with Ancestry's database, but this was the first time I had found a problem myself.
Another useful tool: The GENUKI Church Database, which allows one to enter a town name and find the churches within a given distance.