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What are some effective research strategies for England and Wales, when you are making the transition from the era of civil registration and censuses to the period before civil registration begins?

For a case study, let's use George Hindley and Hannah Drake (see related question Finding residence information for Toronto in the 1840s?).

A rough timeline of the family:

  • about 1818 According to Hannah's entry in the Williamstown, Massachusetts town records (Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915, entry 23 on the linked image), she was born in Sheffield, England, the daughter of Jonathan Drake. (Birth date estimated by FamilySearch website.)
  • about 1819 According to George Hindley's entry in the Williamstown, Massachusetts town records (Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915 v 364 p 54 entry 233), he was born in Sheffield and his father's name was Samuel (no mother's name is given, and the field for the birthplace of his parents is blank). (Birth date estimated by FamilySearch website.)

  • 6 June 1841 Ann Drake and George Hindley are enumerated in the same 1841 Census household on Bailey Street in Sheffield (HO107/1338/4/23/2); Ann is from Yorkshire; George (tailor) is Not from the County -- if this is accurate, the discrepancy could be explained by his reported birthplace in the death records being a 'he was from the area' place of origin, citing the nearest large town rather than the actual birthplace.

  • August 1841 The couple marries. This is from a listing of MARRIAGES in the Sheffield Independent, 14 August 1841, page 5:

On Sunday last, at Upper Chapel, by the Rev. B. T. Stannus, Mr. George Hindley, tailor, to Miss Hannah Drake.

This is likely to be Upper Chapel Unitarian church in the city centre of Sheffield. I found material via Google Books that discusses Rev. Stannus' tenure there. See also this post at Sheffield History: Rev Bartholomew Tealing Stannus which has a transcription of an account of a tea given to welcome him in 1838.

This marriage date is consistent with the Q3 Marriage Registration for George Hindley and Hannah Drake in SHEFFIELD Registration district Volume 22 Page 448 (the marriage estimated to be between late June - September of 1841). (I do not have the certificate or church register yet.) **see update below line **

I have searched in the newly-released collection of Yorkshire Methodist records on Find My Past (see FindMyPast Friday for 13 Jan 2017 on the blog) which have transcriptions and marriages of Sheffield-area records, but did not find George or Hannah, but there are some other people with the surnames Hindley and Drake that I can follow up on.

The next time and place marker I have for this couple is 1844 when their first son Samuel is born in Toronto, Canada.

All the other information I have about this family is from the United States. So far I have not been able to find any siblings or other relatives in United States records.

Obviously I need to widen the search, but how?


I don't have the marriage register from Upper Chapel yet, but I have the certificate from the GRO.

Eighth August 1841 George Hindley, of full age, batchelor, Tailor, Residence Rockingham Street, father Samuel Hindley, shoemaker

Hannah Drake, spinster, of full age, Residence Broad Lane, father Johnathan Drake, (occupation unclear -- it might be 'Joiner')

Married in the Upper Chapel according to the rites and ceremonies of the Presbyterian Dissenters by me, B.T. Stannus, Mins. of Upper Chapel Witnesses: J. Bridgeford, May Butler

George's son Samuel J. Hindley is also a shoemaker. While looking for possible records for Samuel Hindley (that is, candidates for George's father), I found a Samuel Hindley, shoemaker, in nearby East Retford, Notts. -- 22.3 miles (35.9 Km) to the E of Sheffield, according to GENUKI nearby places.

  • 1
    Sheffield is fairly close to the border of South Yorkshire (West Riding as was), so George's "from the area" range might include the northern tip of Derbyshire. – AndyW Jan 16 '17 at 16:54
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My first advice would be to thoroughly examine, again, all the records you have pertaining to this couple.

The records of marriage are the best starting point. You have the GRO index entry and a newspaper notice. However, you do not have the marriage certificate or church register entry. I think this is an essential document to have in this case. It will give the fathers' names and occupations, may note if the fathers are deceased, and will give addresses that might tie directly to the presumptive 1841 census entry. There will also be marriage witnesses recorded who might be siblings or other relatives, and could provide important evidence in determining relationships.

The 1841 census is a potential mine of information. However, I would treat it with caution. It does appear to be the correct couple, but as far as I'm aware there is nothing definite to say that this is your George and Hannah. It is unremarkable that Hannah is recorded as Ann; the names were frequently used interchangeably. Looking at the entire household:

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Who was John Drake? Was he an illegitimate child of Hannah (Ann)?

Who were Joseph & Mary Butler? Interestingly there is a marriage for a Joseph Butler and Mary Drake on 5 Dec 1821 in Ecclesfield, Yorkshire – a short way from Sheffield. Was Mary a widow, and therefore possible Hannah's mother? Certainly worth following up on the Butlers in future censuses, as well as taking a look at the marriage record (available on FindMyPast).

Tracing back into the pre-civil registration period may simply involve trial and error. After collecting all the evidence and details as above, my general procedure is to:

  • Perform a blanket search for appropriate baptisms in the area of interest. Even if you can't tell which is your ancestor, you can get a feel for how many people there are with that name and where they were located. Filter out any that look particularly likely.
  • Follow each possibility up in the censuses, if possible. This may just be a process to simply rule out possibles. Cross reference the census data for the person and their parents with the known facts (occupations, addresses, etc.)
  • Look for a will or probate record for the parents of the possibles. This could provide the vital piece of information. I have several copies of wills where it is noted that one child had gone abroad.
  • Follow up on siblings of the possibles in a similar manner. Locating their marriage records, for example, could provide a name or a signature for a marriage witness which may help you tie individuals together.

It will be hard work, and you might have to follow tens or hundreds of false leads. You might be able to make your work a lot easier by starting with the low hanging fruit that is the marriage certificate.

  • I've added the information from the marriage certificate. One of the witnesses is a Butler. – Jan Murphy Oct 1 '17 at 23:42

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