The Research Process
One of the things I recommend when you are stuck is to go back to the beginning and review all the records you have collected so far.
- Make a Genealogy Source Checklist which lists all the sources you've found so far.
- If you haven't already, look for research guides and other material that will help you put the record in context. Do you know who created the record, and the purpose for which it was created? Do you understand its scope? What clues can you get from its archival arrangement? Have the archivists holding the item created a descriptive paper or reference report about it?
- Carefully re-examine each source and see what information you can glean from it. Make a timeline of all the events and a list of identifying information (things that will tell you that the document is about your John Sherwood and not someone else with the same name). Mark each element of the timeline so you know which source on your source checklist that it came from.
- Look at all the records you have as a group, and see if using them all together can yield even more clues.
- Make a list of the new questions you've thought of, and create a research plan to investigate those new questions.
See also this diagram of the research cycle from the FamilySearch Wiki:
Analyzing what you have
In a comment, you said:
Apologies - yes, Pallot's Marriage Index, which appears to read 'John Sherwood (sd John Sherwood Clarke) = Maria Berry' but doesn't look like a signature, as all writing is in the same handwriting, which I assume to be that of a clerk of some kind. The first characters within the brackets are slightly difficult to discern, but I think look like 'sd' as in 'said' and which I assume was 'said' by John Sherwood himself, deciding at that moment to take as his main surname the name Sherwood, rather than Clarke. Could you or someone else confirm if my reading of Pallot's Marriage Index is correct?
What can we find out about how the index was created?
The Society of Genealogists has a series of guides to aid beginning researchers in studying their family history. Guide Five: Anglican Parish Registers and their Finding Aids, in the section Marriage Indexes, discusses several indexes, including Pallot's Marriage Index. They say:
The groom and bride are indexed separately on very thin pieces of tissue paper or card,
It has also been filmed by Ancestry and is available online through their subscription website www.ancestry.co.uk . Unfortunately, the compilation of the computerised index by Ancestry leaves a great deal to be desired. The reading of the additional notes and parishes of residence of bride and groom is often very bizarre. It is imperative that you use the facility available on the site to examine the filmed image of the original slip. You can then decipher what the 19th century indexer noted from the primary source. If it is still not legible, go back and examine the original church entry. You will probably need to do this anyway since usually only the year of the marriage is shown in the Pallot Index. The slip may not indicate if the marriage was by banns or licence.
Also, for any database that you might use on Ancestry, be sure to scroll down on the search page to read the Source Information and the About the database article for that particular database. This information is found underneath the search box for the individual database -- see England, Pallot's Marriage Index, 1780-1837. (Note: this 'about the database' information is visible to anyone, whether you have a subscription to Ancestry or not.)
The fact that all the writing is all one person's handwriting is often a clue that the document you're looking at is a copy or an extract of something else -- and now that we've reviewed how this particular index was created, we understand why. This index is a paper slip file created by researchers from the parish registers. In cases like this, the person making the copy or extract often makes special notes or marks to indicate the presence of copied signatures or seals or other unusual characteristics of the material being copied.
So having found an entry for John Sherwood via search, and having investigated how the index was made, your next step would be:
- View the image of the paper slip on Ancestry. (I'm stressing this because some people don't take this extra step, and they are satisfied with what's on the record page.)
- Look for the corresponding slip for the spouse. It may be that the same person did both index slips, and the information on both slips is the same, and you won't learn anything new -- but you won't know until you look. Also, if the handwriting is hard to read, comparing the two entries for the same couple can help you puzzle out what each one says.
- Do a search to see if you can find the original parish registers that the index slips were created from. This could be banns, or a license, or both. Be aware that if the bride and groom came from two different places, in some periods, it might be possible to find entries for the marriage in two different parishes (e.g. banns read in the parish of the bride, but the main marriage is listed in the parish of the groom). In some periods, they could be in more than one type of register. If you aren't familiar with the type of registers used in the period you're investigating, or in the area you are investigating, look for other research guides that will help you understand how and why the registers were created. One place to try is the FamilySearch Wiki, which has articles that explain each of their historical record collections, showing what kind of information you might find in that kind of record.
For the slip you found, I would read the 'sd' to mean signed, but the only way to be sure of that, and to see what the original record said, is to either hunt down the original record, or, if it doesn't exist, to find a similar entry in Pallot's Marriage Index where you can find the original register, to see how the original was indexed. Indexes are always tricky to read at first, especially if you are unfamiliar with the original materials which are being indexed.
The other advice I have is to not to take the place of birth at face value, and to leapfrog back to the birthplace listed in the census, but to see if you can find other clues that will let you work back slowly, bit by bit, working from the known to the unknown. Does John Sherwood have siblings? Can you use all the records from his siblings to establish a timeline for the family? When did he arrive in England? Can you learn more from his FAN Club (his Friends, Associates, and Neighbors)?
See QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle for a case study on how to correlate evidence from several records, using information about friends, associates, and neighbors to discover information that you can't find in records about your research subject.