I have a set of marriage and baptism records for an 18th century/early 19th century English parish, and want to assess the probability that the participants are related in some way, before I spend hours and days tracking all mentions of the surnames in the relevant (and adjacent) parish records. If they're common surnames in the area at the time, it's probably wasted effort.

I know there are resources that look at the frequency of surnames in the 19th century censuses, but is there anything earlier?

My data (so far) (all sources from the Rowley Regis Parish registers published by Midlands Ancestors except where noted).

  • Daniel Nightingale married Sarah Raybould 15 Jun 1777 Brierly Hill(Familysearch.org)

  • Daniel Nightingale (son of Daniel above) bapt 1789 married Mary ? 25 Dec 1812 Rowley Regis

  • Richard Nightingale (son of Daniel above) bapt 1814 married Mary Darby (bapt 1813) 10 Aug 1834 (Halesowen parish registers from Midlands Ancestors)

  • John Jones married Mary Darby 27 Sept 1733 Rowley Regis

  • Hannah Jones (daur of above John Jones) bapt 7 Aug 1734 Rowley Regis) married Joseph Nightingale 16 Oct 1758 Rowley Regis

  • Johanna Nightingale (daur of above Joseph Nightingale and Hannah Jones) bapt 15 Apr 1770 married Isaac Darby 26 Aug 1804. These were the parents of Mary Darby (bapt 1813) who married Richard Nightingale above.

The Darby link is visible (but where does Isaac Darby fit in?) And how can I determine if the Nightingales are likely to be related?


2 Answers 2


According to GENUKI, the population of Rowley Regis parish in 1801 was around 5000 people and it only really started growing in the 1820s. It was presumably a bit lower in the 18th century. That's not a tiny parish but it may be too small for a probability assessment to be statistically valid.

Still... archive.org has a TerribleOCRTM copy of the Rowley Regis Parish Register, 1772-1812, which is a decent subset of your timeline. That single text document is easy to search for names, but piles mistranscription and awkward line breaks on top of the already variable spelling. If we pretend that doesn't matter, a simple text search using the browser brings up some counts of relevant and arbitrary names (some with wildcards due to spelling and line breaks):

Nighti*         31
Darby          174
Jones          104
Raybo*          59
Smith          421
Willet*        178
Dither*         26
Brooks          39
Siviter        135

That's not an accurate count of people, just of incidences of that spelling of the name in the record. It includes index entries as well as records. But you could certainly get a rough idea of surname frequency in Rowley Regis by this method applied to more names. It does suggest that Nightingale is not one of the most common names in the parish.

You could probably analyse the index, which breaks by forename (but does not separate like-named individuals) to get a slightly more valid (i.e. less invalid) count. It also helpfully includes some variant spellings under each name. The index lists 21 Nightingale forenames, so the number of individuals will be a little higher than that.

For what it's worth, the same record includes a marriage between Daniel Nightingale (b.) and Mary Smith (wid.) on 25 Dec 1812, which seems to be your "Mary ?" in the question.


This looks a lot to me like two or three families from a small parish who will all end up being related. If you continue going back through those records (I know how painful that can be but it's also very rewarding), you will likely find exactly who is related to whom where and when.

I expect you will discover that Joseph Nightingale was the father or uncle of your first Daniel Nightingale too.

So far is a record for calculating the probability, I don't know of one for that location and time.

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