How common is it to be unable to find baptismal records of a whole family in early 19th century England?
In one tree I am researching, there is a John Feather, who Census records locate in 1861 and 1871 in Manningham, near Bradford, with a birth date of 1836–7 and a birthplace of Heptonstall, Yorkshire. In both his marriage certificates, the spaces for father’s name and rank have a line drawn through, while the brides did provide this information. I infer that he was illegitimate, a common occurrence in Heptonstall’s parish records at the time, but I have been unable to find a birth or baptism record for him.
I have, however, found Census records for him in the 1841 and 1851 Censuses, the first in Todmorden, very close to Heptonstall, and the second in Manningham, as one would expect. The household in 1841 consisted of an older woman, Mally Thomas, and four young adults in their 20s in addition to the five-year-old John: Penelope Feather, Sarah Feather, James Feather and James Jackson. Penelope seems to have married a William Hitchen in 1843, while still living in Heptonstall, and died in 1848 in Manningham. I infer that she, not Sarah, was John’s mother because the ages fit better and because he named his own eldest daughter Penelope. Nonetheless in the 1851 Census, it is the probable aunt Sarah who he is sharing a household with, again as lodgers with a family of Thomases, Richard and Mary (possibly the same Mally as before?). Unfortunately because they are lodgers, the Census doesn’t indicate the relationship between them.
Here is the weird thing. There are a couple of families of Feathers in Heptonstall with baptisms in the late 1700s, including a Mally who could be the Mally Thomas mentioned previously. But I cannot find any baptismal records for John, Penelope or Sarah in Heptonstall. There aren't any Feather baptisms in the 1810–30 period in Heptonstall, and the few in nearby Luddenden do not include a Sarah or a Penelope. (At least not in FamilySearch or Ancestry.com that I can find.) and the only Heptonstall baptism of a John Feather in the right time range is one I already know died as an infant.
I can’t rule out that they were baptised elsewhere. Certainly there are a bunch of Feathers in Haworth, but no Penelope’s that I can find. I have no reason to think they were Non-Conformists.
What is the most reasonable hypothesis here?
- None of these people were ever baptised, and I’m stuck.
- They were baptised, but the records aren’t in the usual databases because of transcription errors or legibility problems, and I need to start trawling through the West Yorkshire parish record scans on Ancestry.com page by page?