There are two individuals, both named William Lark, both married a woman named Mary. I'm quite convinced they are two different families, although they are probably related. They both had several children, christened in Cantley, Buckenham, Norfolk, England, between 1730-1758. There seems to be a natural divide between the two families, but marriage records aren't consistent. I definitely have two marriages between William Larks and women named Mary, one in 1730 (Wright) and another in 1750 (Smith), both in Cantley, Buckenham, Norfolk, England. The dates I have for the christianing of various children are (All in Cantley):

  • Mary- 1731
  • William 1734
  • Sarah- 1740
  • Anne- 1742
  • John- 1743
  • Benjamin- 1751
  • Samuel 1754
  • John 1754 (12 days different than Samuel by index, seems to be the same on page 10 of record found at FamilySearch)
  • Samuel 1758

Burials in Cantley also include

  • John- 1744 (Definitely the 1743 John)
  • William Lark- 1775
  • William Lark- 1807

All of these records are index only. Normally I would try to look up the original records, and see what I could find from them that might be different, but with index only records...

I have a few theories at this point:

  1. William/ Mary Wright had all of the kids born between 1730-1743. William (Son) married Mary Smith, who then had the last 3 kids born.
  2. All of the kids belong to William/ Mary Wright.
  3. There might have been a third couple, responsible for some of the kids.

The first one sounds the most plausible to me, but I would really like to get a bit more solid evidence before I consider this closed. Any idea how to continue?

  • 1
    Is familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11025-69960-33 not the images for the relevant volume? It's a combined register for Cantley for 1737-1812 supposedly...
    – TomH
    Oct 17, 2015 at 16:53
  • You are probably right, will have to look in to that. I always forget the records are usually scanned, even if they aren't linked... It looks like it's the source for some, but not all, of the information, thanks! Oct 17, 2015 at 17:01
  • Please clarify: all of the dates for the baptisms cited above are from the FamilySearch collection England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975? If so, could you add that to your question? Also see the comments on my answer about FamilySearch batch numbers (Sarah Lark baptised 30 Nov 1740 -- detail page cites batch C04074-1).
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 17, 2015 at 18:50
  • Apologies for answering a different question than the one you started out asking -- but this might make it easier to sort out some of the inconsistencies in the records that you find. If it's any consolation, I have the exact same problem for two families in my database where the son and father have the same first name and both married women named Mary -- except that my two are from the 1800s, not the 1700s.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 17, 2015 at 20:43
  • Interesting... At least in 1800 you have census records, depending on how early, and the records are usually a bit better... Still, I'll definitely take your advice, thanks! Oct 18, 2015 at 12:30

2 Answers 2


It's crucial that you get hold of the originals (or rather, images of them). I think you realise this by the fact that you say "Normally I would try to look up the original records". But because there can be so much extra information on the originals, it is pointless to proceed without them.

Fortunately, the originals are available, though I'm not sure how extensive the indexing is. I tried looking for the 1751 Benjamin and while he's there in the images, and in the collection "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975" (index only), he doesn't appear to be in the index to "England, Norfolk, Parish Registers (County Record Office), 1510-1997" (a database with images). So you may need to look through the images one at a time.

Once you have the images - what can you do? I've had similar cases - there are two John & Elizabeth Billington couples in Nantwich in the early 1800s, and two Samuel Cooper families in Sandbach parish in the 1760s (while these two have different wives, the register does not record them!) My totally unsubstantiated personal view is that the parish clerks often realised there was a potential for confusion, and so added in extra data, such as the residence or occupation. If they have done that - use it, because it's very possibly designed to do what you need. If the residences are in, then you may find that there are only two places - in which case, you probably have your first cut of a hypothesis for which child belongs to which family. More likely you've got at least 3 places!

Of course, unless you're really, really, unlucky, one couple will be married some time before the other, so you have a baseline for one family's initial children.

Once you have some possible arrangements, you need to see whether there are any highly unlikely implications. For instance, if two children are baptised 5 months apart, they almost certainly belong to two different families. Yes, it's possible that one is a late baptism, but I always think that we have to work on the basis that the baptism is reasonably contemporary with the birth, unless shown otherwise.

Another scrap of suggestive evidence is what happens to the intervals between baptisms. It's not just identifying the sub-9-month intervals, but if a couple has children every 3y, then one following just 18 months later is unlikely to be theirs. But the major exception to this, is when children die and the next child comes along quickly. So you need to look at the burial records as well. You also need burials to cover off the possibility of children buried but not baptised. And to find when the mothers died.

Clearly you need to cover off the existence (or not) of wills, burials (check for burials with no baptisms to identify missing children to fill in gaps). Oh, and beware when checking intervals - when did the New Year come in, in this register?

Your original question suggested to me that 1754 John and Samuel belonged to two different families. In fact, if you look at the images, it's "John & Samuel twinn[?] children of Wm Larke & Mary his wife baptized Oct'br [?1'st?]" - I am seriously unclear on the actual date. So the omission of crucial data about twins, illustrates why we need the originals.

I would say also that the gap between 1743 and 1751 baptisms suggests but does not prove, that we've gone onto a different family - except that I'd be concerned about that 1734 to 1740 gap before being happy about their typical intervals.

Put these ideas together and you may find that your data falls into "Definitely Family 1", "Definitely Family 2", "Possibly Family 1", "Possibly Family 2" and "No idea". A little work and you may, by considering all the data, detect some more impossibilities and promote "Possibly" entries into "Definitely" entries. At the end though, like me, you may end up with some who you cannot assign with any degree of certainty. You have to leave them out.

  • 1
    FamilySearch is changing the way new collections are being added to the website. As I understand it, these days they put the images up more quickly (as soon as the waypoints can be created) and add the indexing in stages as indexing batches are completed. So I concur that it is crucial to browse the images, because the record you want may be in a section of the images that hasn't been indexed yet.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 20, 2015 at 6:50
  • 1
    Thanks @JanMurphy - the lack of a complete index to the images is obvious to me here because of the older index-only collection but in other cases it might not be at all obvious, so it's a useful warning. Sadly suppliers are often poor at telling us how complete their data is.
    – AdrianB38
    Oct 20, 2015 at 7:54
  • E.g. in this case the Archdeacon's Transcripts are browse-only (no search box on the catalog page); the parish records entry says "Parish registers of christenings, marriages, and burials located in the County Record Office in Norfolk. Included are parishes both in and outside of Norfolk. Only a small part of the records in this collection are included in the index. Many of these records can also be found in the collection: England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975." FamilySearch will warn you. Ancestry is more likely to put in a search box without a warning.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 20, 2015 at 15:29

Let's assume for the moment that all of the records you need will be found in Cantley (a perilous assumption, but we'll start with Cantley before we work outwards to neighboring parishes).

Let's assume also that you began with a global search at FamilySearch.org, where you collected the information that you found about your subject families.

This is the point where you step back, take a deep breath, and (in the words of professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe) slap your hand. Before you take your search results and start making theories, evaluate what you have, and think about what else you could search for.

Search for what records are available for the Place

Global searching encourages us to do everything by name, but we can also approach a problem by searching for records about a place. If you go to the FamilySearch main page, you'll see that in addition to looking for historical records, we can search the FamilySearch Catalog.

As an experiment, we'll start by going to the box on the left of the page and where it says Search these family history centers:, choose Online from the drop-down menu.

To search by Place, enter the largest jurisdiction first, then narrow your search. Search for "England, Norfolk" and you'll get a set of results for the entire county. In the grey box at the top of the page, click on "Places Within Norfolk" to get a list of parishes.

We'll concentrate on the church records for now. We see:

  • England, Norfolk, Cantley - Church records ( 2 )

The two entries are:

  • Archdeacons transcripts, 1600-1812 Author: Church of England. Parish Church of Cantley (Norfolk); Norfolk and Norwich Record Office (Norwich, England)
  • Parish registers for Cantley, 1558-1919 Author: Church of England. Parish Church of Cantley (Norfolk); Norfolk and Norwich Record Office (Norwich, England)

Learn More about the Records

Clicking through on either of these will show you a catalog record describing

  1. who created the records
  2. who holds the records
  3. what kind of records are in this collection
  4. date ranges and other information about coverage

Sometimes catalog entries have a link that says "Learn More" but the Wiki is under construction at the moment. We can find out more about the records in these articles:

At the bottom of each article describing Historical Records held by FamilySearch, be on the lookout for the section called Known Issues, which describes problems that you may have when using the records and suggested work-arounds and news. If there are issues, there will be links to a separate article:

Reading these articles will give you a better understanding of the nature of the records -- you'll be able to evaluate what you find, which will help you resolve any discrepancies.

Widen Your Catalog Search

Now, go back to your place search and adjust the filter on the left-hand side by choosing Family History Library in the drop-down box (instead of Online). Hit the blue button and we see:

  • England, Norfolk, Cantley - Church records ( 6 )
  • England, Norfolk, Cantley - Church records - Indexes ( 2 )

This tells us that there are more church records available at the Family History Library that haven't been digitized and made available online yet.

Consider how the records were created

Let's look at the record-making process:

  1. Someone is baptised and the baptism is recorded in the register
  2. A copy is made to be sent to the church (Archdeacon's Transcripts)
  3. Family Search makes copies of the original records
  4. Family Search indexers extract information from the records
  5. The online database is created from the information created by the indexers

There are other steps I've left out, but this gives us a rough idea of how a record may be changed as it appears to us in different forms. At any point in time when a record is copied, errors can creep in. There could be errors in copying when the archdeacon's transcript was made, or the clerk making the transcript could add additional information known to him when making the transcript. The people making the image copies of the register book or the transcript can miss pages by accident, or film them out of order. Indexers or others extracting information from a register can make mistakes. The index of the computer database can be wrong.

Sue Adams recently began an in-depth examination of the issues involved with identifying which copy of a baptism we are looking at on her Family Folklore Blog. Some the entries that she has made on the Abinger baptism so far are:

Even if you don't want to get into the big issues about how genealogists might deal with the issue of citing exactly what they've seen, at least look at these posts to see the illustrations -- the photos of the bishop's transcript in "What is an Item?", and Sue's Coggle Diagram that shows how many copies might exist of a single record describing a single event. Making a similar mind-map of FamilySearch's records for your Norfolk baptism will help you sort out and evaluate the entries you discovered in the FamilySearch Catalog.

Always remember: An index or an extract is a pointer to the original records. Issues like these show why we need to go beyond making theories only by using the dates we find in indexes or in derivative records. The more you understand about what you are actually using, the better your evaluation of the information will be.

Widen Your Search beyond a Single Record Type

All of us face, at one time or another, a problem that can't be resolved by collecting records all of one type that contain direct evidence which will answer the question we want to answer. We need to beef up our problem-solving skills by looking for information in other places and by improving our research skills.

For the 1700s, to look for information about family relationships, consider probate records. For other ideas, try the England Record Selection Table in the FamilySearch Wiki, or similar checklists, or look for finding aids or research guides on doing genealogy in this period.

For more education:

Webinars and video classes


  • Another "Known Issue" with global search results at Family Search is that your results will have information from the Historical Record Collections and FamilySearch's IGI, which in turn has information from the Controlled Extraction Program (which is more likely to have complete or near-complete record sets) and patron-submitted information (e.g. from people who copied information about their own family members).
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 17, 2015 at 23:46
  • Hugh Wallis created a site that allows users to search the IGI by batch number. The main explanation is here -- see What is a batch?. Archer Software has an updated site for those who want to search by batch at FamilySearch: A Guide to the British Batches which searches some of the batch type that Hugh Wallis excluded.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 17, 2015 at 23:50
  • For the batches Hugh Wallis' chose not to include in his Guide to the IGI Batch Numbers, his explanation of why they were excluded is in the FAQ: see the section I've found batch numbers starting with A (or F, I, L, T etc.) Why are they not on this site?
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 17, 2015 at 23:56

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