I have a marriage certificate for my wife's great Grandfather.

According to the certificate, he was born about 1885. He signed it as "Alexander Campbell Harris". He stated that his father was "Samuel Harris".

The marriage itself was on September 12, 1911 to "Esmé Catherine Earley" in Cardiff, Wales.

No matter how many records I search (both Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast.com), I can't find any potential 1891, 1901, 1911 census or 1939 registry logs, let alone a birth record (which I assume is in Wales).

On the marriage certificate, he states his occupation as "professional athlete" and, according to family members, he used to be a trainer or something, massaging those who participated.

What options are available to me to try and locate him in any records?

I already have the details for his wife Esmé:



I ordered the death certificate that was referred to in one of the answers and it arrived today.


  • His name is registered as "Alexander Campbell Harris". So the "C" stood for the correct middle name.
  • The informant was "Esme Harris - Widow of deceased". So she has the correct name.


  • His age is clearly indicated as 60, thus implying he was born in 1875, 10 years prior to the age he reported on his marriage certificate.
  • Esme's place of residence is 68, New Dock Road. So this does not match her address on the 1939 Register. But this is 4 years later so it is possible she moved.

His rank or profession is indicated as:

Of 49, Swansea Road, Llanelly. Storesman at electric Power Station.


Today, his daughter's (Esme Harris - not his wife, also Esme :)) marriage certificate arrived. She got married in 1937. This was the interesting bit:

Father profession

In this case the marriage certificate confirms that her father was already deceased by 1937. In addition, it states that his last known profession was:

Confidential Clerk (Electricity Supply Company)

That ties in with the death certificate that was tracked down. Got to be right. Still not got anywhere with the birth though (made harder due to the discrepancies as discussed on here).


Turns out that Alexander was buried at Llanelli District Cemetery. On their records for his grave it also states a 5 month old girl buried in 1920. I will research her. For Alexander, their records had Harries as the surname (no middle name). We know this is the correct person though because the address is the same as the death certificate. And for the girl, her address was Brecon Arms. And Alexander's wife was a Landlord of a pup in Llanelli. Unfortunately there is no gravestone as they looked for me.

So the only thing I struggled with is birth and I think I asked a separate question about that. Can't remember. I have only ever found one entry with the correct father being Samuel Harris and a mechanical engineer. But that is all - in Scotland.

Update - Birth

The 1921 Census has been released and I just purchased the sheets for the Harris family (transcribed as Harries). And it states that he was born in Irvine, Ayr. It computed the birth as 1874 but I had found the birth as 1875. For that 1875 record the father is Samuel Harris and was an Engineer.

It has come together! I have just bought the birth certificate from Scottish website. This leads to another question I will ask. He decidedto use "Campbell" as a middle name so that must have a link with "Ayr" perhaps?

  • 1
    I have removed your tree image because it contained the names of some people who appear to still be alive. We need to be very careful not to infringe privacy in this situation and whenever people born less than 100 years ago appear in questions - see help center.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 13, 2019 at 23:41
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    I think the professional athlete angle would be worth pursuing via British newspapers. You may turn up an obituary or article that mentions not just his prowess but also his early life.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 13, 2019 at 23:49
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    Thanks for the update. Seems that you have the correct person. Remember that the information on a death certificate is only as good as the informant. And in this case, it's an informant who knew the deceased well but was also emotionally distraught and may have had someone with her to help give the information, may not have double checked the info, etc. The age could be a mistake (more likely than the marriage cert being that far off) and yes people move a lot.
    – Cyn
    Jan 17, 2019 at 16:16
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    Looks like the right person but I'd still be keeping an open mind about the age/dob (and place of birth) especially as you haven't been able to find a record using the age form the marriage...
    – user6485
    Jan 17, 2019 at 16:23
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    Ancestry has an 1881 Scotland Census record from Irvine, Ayrshire for a Samuel and Jane Harris, including a son Alexander aged 6. Worth a look, I think. Also an Alexander C Harris, born Ireland, in Chelsea 1901. The possible 1875 birth date at least seems to give you a few more candidates to investigate.
    – AndyW
    Jan 17, 2019 at 17:41

2 Answers 2


Brute force searching is sometimes the way to go.

I found your wife's great grandmother's birth record on Familysearch.

Esme Katherine Earley
England and Wales Birth Registration Index
Name Esme Katherine Earley
Event Type Birth Registration
Registration Quarter Apr-May-Jun
Registration Year 1887
Registration District Cardiff
County Glamorganshire
Event Place Cardiff, Glamorganshire, Wales
Volume 11A
Page 340
Affiliate Line Number 146

It also has a transcript of 13 year old Esme in the 1901 census with her family. With a note that you can view the record at FindMyPast. I assume you have these.

Sometimes researching other family members is the way to go. Especially when you're dealing with a very common surname and a common given name, but someone else has a less common given name. I found what appears to be a daughter, also Esme, born 1916.

The only Alexander Harris I found in the census was in 1891. This family moved around a lot.

Building a collection of facts and associated names will help you get closer to your goal. Be sure to check middle names too, as I did.

Your next step is to spend some time looking through census returns for Cardiff in 1911. The transcription of the name might be wrong and this can throw off the search. You might find a Tharris or Heris instead of Harris, one never knows. Start there because you are more certain of the town (though they could have gone on a holiday in order to get married). Then work backwards.

  • Yes, I have updated the question. I already have Esme my wife's Great Grandmother and also their daughter Esme who lived in Croydon. The maternal side I have no issue with. It is the paternal side. Jan 13, 2019 at 22:54
  • I figured that might be the case. It was worth a try. Sometimes looking up under another name does the trick.
    – Cyn
    Jan 13, 2019 at 22:55
  • Yes, I updated the question further to show that I have obtained some information thus far. Hopefully I have not exposed anyone still living on the image! Jan 13, 2019 at 22:57
  • The link to Alexander you stated could not be the one as the "Head" is not "Samuel", sadly. Jan 13, 2019 at 23:00
  • Yes, I noticed it was different. I wouldn't rule it out just for that though. Some people went by their middle names and you will see alternating names on documents because of that. I included the document, however, because it was the only one with an Alexander (there were no Campbells).
    – Cyn
    Jan 13, 2019 at 23:10

My first step was to look for the births of children registered with the surname Harris and the mother's maiden name of Earley from 1911 onwards, using the GRO indices.

I found 4:

  • Cyril Alexander Harris 1913M quarter Cardiff
  • Austin Harris 1914S quarter Cardiff
  • Esme Harris 1916D quarter Llanelly
  • Jeanie Harris 1918S quarter Llanelly

(The GRO indices with mother's maiden name don't go beyond 1918, but Freebmd added 4 children born in Llanelly between 1920M and 1926 (redacted in line with our privacy policy).

Findmypast has baptism records for two of the children:

  • Cyril Alexander baptised Cardiff January 1913. Parents are Alexander and Esme; Alexander is a 'Trainer'.
  • Esme baptised Nov 1916 in Bury Port Carmarthenshire. Parents are Alexander and Esme. Alexander is a 'Foreman'.

Looking in the 1939 register for Harris families in Llanelly, I find:

  • Esme Harris born 20 Apr 1887, widowed. (There are three redacted entries so it isn't possible to be totally sure that this is the right household, but it is worth exploring.)

Looking on Freebmd for deaths of an Alexander Harris in Llanelli, I find:

  • Alexander C Harris died 1935 March quarter aged 60 (so born about 1875).

You may wish to order the death certificate to verify it is who it appears to be by (for example) checking whether the informant is Alexander's wife Esme or one of their known children; and/or if his occupation matches what you know; or if the address aligns with known addresses for 'your' Alexander -- for example, his address at the baptism of his children where known, or the address for the widowed Esme in 1939. Enough points of congruence (or conversely) enough points of dissonance should help you decide whether this is 'your' Alexander. You could also investigate the availability of electoral rolls, education records for his children, newspaper notices of his death, ... anything that will help you build up a picture of where the family lived in the 1920s and 30s, and also whether there was somebody of the same name in the same area at the same time, and perhaps make buying the death certificate less of a gamble (if you think it is one).

If the death certificate is for 'your' Alexander, you will want to understand the discrepancy in apparent age at marriage (suggesting DOB of 1885) and death (suggesting DOB of 1875). It may be a simple mistake in transcription of the death record (60 instead of 50); or the death informant didn't know the truth; or there was a lie told at marriage (perhaps to make him seem closer in age to Esme?); or a mistake on the marriage certificate.

In any case, it increases the date range in which you should be searching for birth/baptism and census records. You should ensure your search includes England Scotland and Ireland as well as Wales -- the name Campbell in particular would have me wondering about Scotland and Ireland. Cardiff, where he first appears in the records as far as you have found so far, is a port and as a wealthy city at the beginning of the 20th century attracted 'immigrants' and seamen from all over the United Kingdom and Ireland (and beyond).

When searching, bear in mind that:

  • he may not always have been indexed with both names -- it seems from the baptism records that he went by Alexander in later life.

  • he may not have been named Alexander Campbell when he was born -- he might have adopted Campbell later for family reasons.

  • he may not have been named anything like Alexander Campbell Harris at birth(1), so locating him in the 1911 census should be your priority (but do NOT confine your search to Cardiff).

  • his age in any record should be taken at this stage with a pinch of salt!

  • his father may not have been called Samuel -- if he was illigitimate, he might have invented a father's name. Did his father have an occupation or was he 'conveniently' deceased?

In short, don't assume that anything you 'know' is true! And don't rely on a single index of (e.g.) births -- there are errors in all of them but (hopefully) not the same errors. Peter Collier has documented some errors in the GRO indices, but they're all prone to transcription error (even assuming the data was recorded properly in the first place.) Try to double check with multiple indices and make sure they'ra independent -- Ancestry uses the Freebmd indices (as far as I know) so no point cross-checking those two...

(1) I have an ancestor who was named Stanley Reynolds Wright at birth, appeared in censuses from 1871-1901 as Stanley Wright , separated from his wife and appeared thereafter as John Wright, and was named as John William Wright when his wife died.

  • Thanks for this. I already had the individuals you mention in my tree but I thank you for your answer and it was useful to know about Cyril's baptism with his father being registered as a Trainer. :) I actual see his daughter on a weekly basis as we are a carer for her. I will look into the entries you suggested. Thank you. Jan 14, 2019 at 9:32
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    If Alexander was raising a family 1913-1918 then he probably didn't fight in WW1. That might make the ~1875 DOB more plausible, as he could (just) have passed the conscription cutoff at 40 years old.
    – AndyW
    Jan 14, 2019 at 13:14
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    @AndyW good point. There's no evidence he was in a reserved occupation; however we don't know what he was a 'foreman' of in 1916 -- he could have been working in an arms factory. llanellich.org.uk/files/297-shell-and-rectification-factories
    – user6485
    Jan 14, 2019 at 13:51
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    @AndrewTruckle please keep us informed -- I'll confess to being intrigued.
    – user6485
    Jan 14, 2019 at 14:18
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    @AndrewTruckle So now you need to extend your search for his birth as we've suggested.
    – user6485
    Mar 11, 2019 at 17:11

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