In 1857S, the GRO marriage indices have a Thirza (or Thurza) Broad marrying William Harper in Wantage. This is the only record I have found that refers to William.

Thurza Broad appears in the 1841 (age 5) and 1851 (aged 19) censuses with her parents Henry and Amy in Wantage, Berkshire.

Thurza appears in the 1861 census with her parents in Wantage as 30 year old unmarried (not widowed) Thurza Harper with a daughter Louisa aged 1. (Louisa Harper's birth registration took place in 1859D in Wantage with the mother's maiden name blank; this is the only birth registration with the right name in the right district around the right time).

Thurza goes on to have 3 further children: Frederic William Harper (1863 Wantage); Michael Joseph Harper (1865 Wantage); and Mary Jane Harper (1867 Highworth, Wiltshire). All these children are registered with a blank mother's maiden name. (I've identified the siblings by finding Louisa in the 1871 census and tracing the birth registrations of the siblings with her).

Thurza dies in 1867S in Abingdon. In 1871, her children are all in the Wantage Workhouse; in 1881, the two youngest children are still there.

I cannot find a likely death for William Harper, the putative father.

My question is: what scenarios could result in the children being registered with the surname Harper and no mother's maiden name?

1 Answer 1


The crux of this question is what does the "-" in the Mother's Maiden Surname column on the new GRO indexes mean?

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The fact that there is a dash in the index does not mean there is a dash in the birth register in the place of the mother's maiden surname. There is no specific column in the birth register for the mother's maiden surname. In compiling this index, the GRO has to determine what is the mother's maiden name. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, this is very straightforward. If the mother's name is recorded as "Thirza Harper formerly Broad", then it is obvious that her maiden name was Broad.

It becomes less obvious with illegitimate births. It is impossible to say what the birth register says without ordering the certificate. In my experience using the new GRO indexes, births for which no father is recorded have a dash in the place of the mother's maiden surname. Even in cases where the mother's surname is written in the register, it was not indexed if there was no father listed. That is the most likely explanation in this case.

I have a similar case where several illegitimate children were born to a widow (Mary Smith). In all cases, the children are indexed under her married surname (Smith), and mother's maiden name appears as a dash. On the one birth certificate I have there is no father's name listed, and the mother is recorded as "Mary Smith formerly Jones".

Other possible reasons for a dash in place of the mother's maiden name is that the information was otherwise unavailable, due to illegibility or transcription issues. Given Thirza had multiple children and all appear in this way, this is an unlikely explanation.

Keep in mind that the way in which mother's maiden name is recorded in the new GRO indexes differs from the old indexes. In the old GRO indexes, as transcribed by FreeBMD, the mother's surname was indexed on illegitimate births as the mother's maiden name whether or not the father was named or she was married.

In summary, the most likely reason no mother's maiden surname is listed in the index is simply because no father was listed in the register. This makes sense, since it appears that for whatever reason Thirza split from her husband between their marriage in 1857 and birth of Louisa in 1859.

  • The form provided to registrars from 1837 onwards has a specific column for "Mothers Name and Maiden Name". If father's name is blank (as I agree is likely in these cases) the name and maiden name (if any) should still have been specified although the relevant (18360 act gives no guidance to registrars on how to complete the form).
    – user104
    Feb 17, 2017 at 10:13
  • So we're left with two questions: How did the person registering the birth specify the mother's identity (T Harper or T Harper formerly Broad); and what instructions did the GRO issue during indexing (no father named: index under mother's surname and leave maiden name blank whether it's present or not?)
    – user104
    Feb 17, 2017 at 10:15
  • GRO help says: Q16. What if there is a dash against details in an index entry? A dash is recorded where the details have not been data captured in the index. Not all information will have been provided by the informant when the birth or death was registered, or in some cases the information may not have been data captured. In these circumstances there will be a dash against the field when the search results are displayed.
    – user104
    Feb 17, 2017 at 10:15
  • And also: Q17. Why is Mother's Maiden Name shown in most, but not all birth indexes? In some cases Mother's Maiden Name was not data captured, and will appear in the online index as a dash. However, we have where possible enhanced the indexes to include Mother's Maiden Name where it has previously not been provided on the microfiche indexes.
    – user104
    Feb 17, 2017 at 10:15
  • Of those 2 questions, it's impossible to answer the first without ordering the birth certificate. Regarding the second, I have sent an email to the GRO asking if they can specify what guidelines they used for MMN in compiling the new indexes.
    – Harry V.
    Feb 17, 2017 at 12:11

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