I wasn't expecting to find this when I received a marriage certificate in the post today.

The year of marriage is 1877 in the registration district of Exeter.

Mary Ann Vickery, age 22 which make her year of birth 1855 approx. William Brown, age 21, which would make his year of birth around 1856.

I can show a snippet from the certificate if required but the text is quite clear.

In my tree I have:

Mary (born 1852). William (born 1859).

Mary's birth is consistent in Mary ways:

  • I have her birth certificate and it is 18 April 1852.
  • Based on the census logs I have found to day they too coincide (1881, 1891, 1901, 1911).
  • The year of marriage fits in with the birth of her children.

For William I only have two census logs for now (1881 and 1901).

On the 1901 image the areas are very clear:


Clearly Mary is 48 and William is 43.

OK, OK, one might ask:

  • Is this marriage certificate the right one for this couple?
  • Or, are the census logs the correct one for this couple?

I am going on the basis that these persons are the same. They got married in a Registry Office.

According to my records they would have been:

William - 1877-1859 = 18 years. Kind of young but I guess the age could have massages either way, most likely to being a bit older, but 21?

Mary - 1877-1852 = 25 years.

Was it common at this time to have such differencing with the facts (as in taking the birth certificate as fact)?

I agree with one of the answers provided in that census data can't be relied on by itself to establish ages.

  • 1861 Mary is 10 and a servant but it says she was born in a different place in Devon.
  • 1871 Mary is 19 and a servant but it says she was born in Taunton, Somerset.
  • 1881 Mary was 28 (calculated 1853) - born Whimple:

1881 Census

  • 1891 Mary was 38 (calculated 1853) - born Whimple:

1891 Census

  • 1901 Mary was 48 (calculated 1853) - born Whimple:

1901 Census

  • 1911 Mary was 54 (calculated 1857) - born Whimple: (oops - note that she died on dementia in early 1930s).

1911 Census

I should point out a Military pension record snippet for their son Robert Brown in 1907 that tells me these are correct (note the address):

1907 Mili

I don't know why William Brown was not listed on the 1901 census log.

Interestingly on Mary's death certificate from 1932 it says that her husband was a "Tanner, Journeyman":

1932 Death

I think that William is then later found on the 1939 register as a Widower with his daughter (married) but I do not have the official images etc for that.

So I figured that maybe he was just travelling in 1901.

4 Answers 4


Two common reasons for lying about age at marriage were:

  1. Pretending to be over 21 (and so not needing parental consent)
  2. Adjusting your age to be closer to your partners.

Possibly you have examples of both.

  • It makes you wonder if her profession was true! "Lace Maker" (I think). Although her father does match her birth certificate so that is something! Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 13:03
  • There's a 3rd one I've encountered - not wanting to disclose their true ages. I've seen a couple of marriage dockets (license applications) where both parties listed their ages as "over 21" (when they were both at least a few years older), and one where they both listed their ages as 21 exactly when all other records place them at 36 and 28. Reason #2 seemed to happen with some frequency when the wife was older than the husband.
    – cleaverkin
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 3:52
  • @cleaverkin It's common in England and Wales to find 'Full age' or 'OFA' indicating that they were 21 or over -- no more detail than that was required and the celebrant often didn't ask exact ages.
    – user6485
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 7:11

The simple answer is probably the obvious one, that they were "creative" with the ages they gave the registrar when getting married, probably because of the age difference, or because William was under 21 so would have needed parental consent if he gave his true age.


I have several thoughts on this:

  1. Ages given on census rolls are not accurate and can be as much as 10 years off either way. Compare ages in different census rolls for the same people and you'll see what I mean. I would have to think that much of the time, the census taker did not ask the people their age but simply guessed it. The birth certificate is definitely much more reliable than ages on census rolls.

  2. The name William Brown is extremely common and there could be many William Browns married to Marys living in the same city. The verification would need to be other information in the record, e.g. the names and birth order of the children, birth places, address, etc.

  3. You say the marriage year is 1877 and you show the 1901 census image. You say you have the 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 census for Mary, but you only have the 1881 and 1901 census for William. You don't say what is on the 1891 census. Is William not on that? If not, why not? Were sons Robert and Hugh who should have been about age 2 and age 1 on that census? If not, why not? If William and Mary were married in 1877, then under normal circumstances, you should find them together on the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses.

  • Fair points. I have fleshed out my question with the snippets that I have that show you why I think these records all go together. Although I can't specifically say about William Brown 1901 - I have not done a concerted search for it yet. Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 16:40

I'm adding this as a new answer regarding the census information and images that were added to the question after I had given my earlier answer.

You show the 4 census records for Mary for 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. I believe the record for 1901 is a different family, because:

  • 1881 and 1891 give her first names as Mary Ann. 1911 gives her name as Mrs. M. A., but 1901 list her only as Mary. It would seem that she wanted to be known as Mary Ann. Why not in 1901?

  • 1891 she has children Elizabeth who is 5, Albert who is 4, Robert who is 2 and Harry who is 1. In 1901, she has Robert who is 12, Hugh is 11, and Sidney is 3. What happened to Elizabeth and Albert? Harry and Hugh are not the same names. In 1911, Albert was still at home at age 25. What happened to Sidney who should be 13?

If the 1901 record is for a different family, then the Robert Brown listed in 1891 would be a different person than the Robert Brown listed in 1901. Your Robert Brown "snippet" lists the mother as Mary Ann as does the death certificate.

I would conclude that you have the incorrect 1901 record and suggest you look for a different one that includes Mary Ann Brown and children Elizabeth (15), Albert (14), Robert (12), Harry (11) and maybe Richard (19).

And that would explain why the ages on the 1877 marriage certificate are so different from those in the 1901 census.

  • Hugh's birth reference actually says "Hugh Harry Brown". So I think they have been interchanging which name he uses. Also, on the 1911 census it says she had had a total of 11 children and only 7 were still living. So 4 had died. 1 of which I know. The others must have been between census so dropped off the radar. With exception of Albert not being there. if Mary was a servant at 10, then her kids might have been servants. Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 18:53
  • To prove those theories, you need to find the death records for the children to show they in fact died before the next census, and then you'll have to track down Albert and find out where he was in 1901. I also find it odd that parents who named a boy Hugh Harry would list him when he was 1 as "Harry". Seriously, with names like Mary Ann, William and Brown, you need a lot of corroborating facts to assemble to show that you actually have the correct people and family.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 19:00
  • freecen website is very limited in what it displays for a mary ann brown in 1901 so I am stuck there. Unless there are other website (free) resources for this. Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 19:06
  • There is a Albert Brown Census 1901 Hint in "Devon" but I do not have subscription to view. Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 19:07
  • 1
    @lkessler: regarding common use of middle names - my grandmother went by the name "Ruby" all her life. It wasn't until I started hunting through census records that I discovered her given name was "Hannah" and that Ruby was her middle name. I don't know if "Ruby" was used because her parents chose to call her that, or if she decided that she preferred "Ruby" to "Hannah". Similarly, people can use different names at different times. The given names of my wife's late uncle were "Robert Lincoln xxxxx" but while he was called "Lincoln" or "Linc" within the family he went by "Bob" at work. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 14:17

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