Thursday, 5 February 2015

Are genealogy "do-overs" worth it?

The genealogy "do-over" is this year's buzz-word - to discount your previous research and start again with the benefit of the increased availability of digitised records and of course your much greater genealogical experience.

When I took the plunge and became a professional genealogist just over 5 years ago I immediately felt embarrassed by some of my numerous personal research files.  To be fair some were from the very beginning of my family history research and borrowed quite heavily from online trees and other people's research - which in my naivete I had assumed were correct as they were so much more experienced than I was at that time.  I had also not been as meticulous as to sources and analysis as I am now.

So as time permits (and usually during insomniac nights huddled over the computer and bundled up in a duvet) I have gradually been reviewing my previous research, checking it over for accuracy and sense, adding in images of documents, drawing up plans for further research and taking the time to fill in the background to each individual's story.

This was the case recently with William Fretwell my great grandfather whose file I hadn't touched for nearly 10 years.

William Fretwell


William was born in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire (D H Lawrence country) in around 1843 and was originally a coal miner but had lung trouble so switched to being a painter and general labourer.  His first appearance is in the 1851 census in Tinsley Park in Yorkshire.  I had found his baptism in Eastwood on 26 May 1843 the son of Samuel and Mary Fretwell and this didn't quite fit in with his 1851census age of 10 years.  I hadn't been able to find a likely birth registration in the GRO birth registration indexes so I didn't have a birth certificate for him.

I had found a registration for a William Fretwell in 1841 and had sent off for the birth certificate expecting it to be correct and it was for his nephew - the illegitimate son of his sister Mira.  My nose began twitching as I reviewed this - could William not be the son of Samuel and Mary after all?  Was he his "sister"s son instead?  I set out to disprove this and made a list of all the children of Samuel and Mary from the baptisms in Eastwood and in the various censuses with a view to matching them all up with birth registrations, burials etc.

The first item in favour of this new theory was that the sister who had the illegitimate son was living next door to her parents in 1851 and was now married with no sign of a son William.  In addition there was the existence of another son to Samuel and Mary - apparently born  about a year later than William - who also appeared in the 1851 census.

This son Job was baptised in Eastwood on 7 January 1844 whereas William was baptised on 26 May 1843 in Eastwood.  Both were attributed to Samuel and Mary.  Now it was just possible that if Job was early and William had been born some time before his baptism the requisite 9 months between pregnancies would apply but although possible was it likely that they were in fact full brothers?

Birth registration index entries


I searched again in the GRO birth registration indexes using www.freebmd.org and, with greater experience now in search strategies, searched only on the surname Fretwell within the Basford registration district for the period 1840 to 1850.  This brought up the following interesting entries:

Male Fretwell registered March Quarter 1841 Basford vol 15 page 481
Job Fretwell registered June Quarter 1841 Basford vol 15 page 456
William Fretwell registered December Quarter 1841 Basford vol 15 page 426

William Fretwell registered September Quarter 1843 Basford vol 15 page 437

I had already ordered the 1841 certificate for William Fretwell which turned out to be Mira' s son.  I couldn't remember why I had discounted the 1843 entry.  Perhaps I had reasoned that it was too late for a baptism in May 1843.  The usual wisdom is that births come before baptisms but does this apply with the GRO registration index records?

The answer is no, not always.  You need to formally register a birth no later than 6 weeks after the event or you will incur a fine.  Was this always the case?  1843 was only 6 years after the advent of civil registration and it was not compulsory to register births at this time.  Furthermore it is possible that a birth a few days before a baptism at the end of May could still be legally registered in the first week in July taking it into the next quarter of the indexes.

Could this birth registration be the one I hadn't found before?


More puzzling still was a sole birth registration entry for Job Fretwell in 1841.  Surely this didn't fit with a baptism in 1844?

The only way to resolve this is to order both certificates and await the results.  I could have looked for a corresponding death in the GRO death registration indexes but there were no corresponding burials in the Eastwood church burial registers that I could see.  I am awaiting the certificates with bated breath and fingers crossed.

1851 census


The other bonus of my review of William Fretwell is that I took another look at the 1851 census image in which he appears.  The enumerators schedule page has merely Tinsley Park as the address - no street names - and as usual shows the family's neighbours.  One is his sister and her husband who was a brick maker but the other one is an Engineer from Cornwall.  Now usually engineers do not share the same kind of pit cottages as coal miners and brickmakers.  I looked  at the schedule pages in front of and behind the one for William and his family and there were quite a few engineers so I was curious as to why this should be.

I looked up Tinsley Park Colliery on the Internet and found a Wikipedia entry which said that Tinsley Park Colliery's first shaft was sunk in 1852.  Was this what William's family were doing there in 1851?  Were they helping to start up a coal mine?  More local history research in Yorkshire is obviously needed.

Was the "do-over" worth it?


Was it worth revisiting my research?  Yes of course it was!  Even if the 1843 William Fretwell birth certificate turns out not to be him then I still have my new theory to follow up.  And Job is still a mystery.

It has also opened up a whole new area of background research into the Tinsley Park Colliery and what the family were doing there in 1851.  What induced them to travel to work for another colliery company?  How long did they stay?  They are back in Eastwood in 1861.  Did Samuel his father have some special skills?  Here's hoping the records have survived..............




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