Find My Past Blog - Ask the Expert - identity crisis
Our expert Stephen Rigden, pictured right, answers your questions.
From Debbie Dixon (nee Munday) in Australia:
‘Perhaps you may have some suggestions for finding my Munday family.
My grandfather was Charles William Munday born in 1904 in St Pancras to Charles Thomas Munday and Margaret Elizabeth Fitzgibbon. The family eventually emigrated to Australia.
I have found Charles Thomas Munday born c1875 in St Pancras to James Munday and Jemima Howard whose first married name was Spankhurst. On James and Jemima’s marriage certificate James’ father is listed as Richard Munday (labourer) and James is listed as a bachelor. Both James and Jemima’s ages are recorded as ‘of age’. This gives me no idea where or when James Munday was born. I have found both a Richard and James Munday but have no way of proving if these are my ancestors.
James and Jemima had a son in 1871 but did not marry until 1872. On the 1871 census Jemima is living with her father William Howard. By 1881 James Munday was dead so I have no way to find out any information about him. Can you help?’
‘Thanks for your email, Debbie, which I have selected to answer as it highlights a question that I believe many researchers come up against.
You have a James Munday who married in 1872, had some children, and then died at some date before 1881. Furthermore, on his marriage certificate he is described as being of full age, which should indicate that he was born at some date in or before 1851 (i.e., at least 21 years earlier).
What this combination of circumstances means is that currently you have him on neither the 1871 nor the 1881 census returns. Furthermore, you feel that you cannot positively identify him on earlier census returns as you do not know when he was born and you will be faced will several candidate entries.
However, all is not lost.
Firstly, his wife Jemima was alive at the time of the 1881 census, upon which her recorded age is 39 years. She is on the 1871 census (as a young widow, not yet married to James Munday) as 29. This seems to reliably place her birth circa 1841/42. This is not necessarily a guide to the age of James but it provides a starting point.
Secondly, you have the approximate parameters within which the death of James occurred, i.e., from the date of birth of his last known child to the date of the census in April 1881. The death indexes for this period give the age of death, so you can calculate the approximate year of birth. Eliminating all the deaths for men of the same name born after 1851, you will be left with a list of candidate entries of death. I took a look and there would appear to be about 10 entries which meet the available criteria.
One is in Pancras but he was aged 63 years at his death in June quarter 1876, which would mean that he was born in 1812/13, making this person considerably older than the husband of Jemima (who was born circa 1841/42). I don’t believe this eliminates this individual: a widow with young children might marry an older man and, certainly, although ‘of full age’ is a very common formula, it was definitely used on occasion to disguise a disparity in age.
There are at least two possible next steps.
One is simply to apply for the candidate death certificates, one at a time, starting with those you consider most probable. Of course, this will cost money, as the General Register Office has to charge you the statutory fee. However, hopefully, on one of the first certificates the informant at the death will be Jemima Munday. You would then know James’ age at death, be able to calculate his approximate year of birth, and be able to start looking for him more confidently in the 1871 and earlier censuses.
An alternative is to use family reconstruction techniques to begin to identify the other candidates from the list of deaths with individuals enumerated on the 1871 (and earlier) census, trying to match them with census returns with a father Richard. You may find that you can confidently eliminate some candidates, and you may find a favoured candidate for ‘your’ James. Assuming you have a subscription rather than PayAsYouGo access, this will not cost you money, just time.
A variation on this second family reconstruction approach would be simply to search each of the four census years from 1841 to 1871 for a Richard Munday with a son James Munday born before 1851. However, note that this approach runs the risk of the father and son already living in separate households (or the father Richard being dead) by 1841.
In summary, you are unlikely to find a quick and easy answer but I believe that you should be able to resolve this particular problem through careful lateral thinking and a systematic approach to the available resources.’
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