Hints & Tips

Traps to be aware of when looking for your ancestors.

If you have searched all the available records but are unable to find your ancestors there could be a simple clerical error or spelling variation blocking your results. Try the tips below.

Common Clerical Errors

  • The dates or names may have been entered incorrectly either in the original document, or when it was later transcribed;
  • An old fashion T or F may have been read as an S or vice versa by the transcriber;
  • Dates may be accidentally transposed;
  • If you can't find the person you are looking for try searching for a known family member such as a sibling or parent, or look for them in earlier or later records.

Spelling and Name Variations

  • The spelling of family names often changed over time, e.g. Browne to Brown, or Stuart to Stewart.
  • Names may have been anglicised when they emigrated, e.g. Padrig changed to Patrick.
  • Names were often abbreviated on Census or shipping lists e.g. William became Wllm or Charles become Chas.
  • If birth dates just don’t fit - in some families, if a baby or young child died, they named the next baby with the same name. This seemed to happen to some families whose children died on a ship to New Zealand.
  • Search every possible surname spelling, including phonetic and typographic errors. Re-check material already gathered for any known spelling variant. If you can’t find great grandfather “Francis” but know the name(s) of some siblings, try searching for them – there may be a typo error in Francis’s name (i.e. Frances).
  • Latin was commonly used in the Catholic Church records so a marriage or baptism record may have the latinized version of a name, e.g. Patricius instead of Patrick

Can't Find your Ancestor in the UK Census Records?

  • The UK Census was a snapshot of the population taken at a specific time, usually on one night. If you can't find any record of your relations it could be because they were out of the district on the night the census was taken.
  • Agricultural labourers, seamen and seasonal workers sometimes travelled between Scotland, Ireland and England to work. They could also have been at sea, abroad, in hospital, or elsewhere in the country on the night the census was taken.
  • Check other areas of the country to see if they show up, or search a later or earlier census record.
  • If you know the name of their wife or a child, look for them instead. Check to see whether the wife is listed as 'wife', 'widow' or 'head' (head of the household) on a census record for clues.

Other things to be Aware of

  • The names of women and children were not always listed on shipping lists, they may have been listed as 'wife of the above', or Mr Brown, wife and six children
  • Women who had given birth usually had their mothers/mothers-in-law to stay for some time after the birth. Just because the mother or mother-in-law appears to be in the household on the night of the census, does not necessarily mean she is widowed and living with them permanently at the time.
  • Maternal deaths were quite common until recent times and men with children often remarried quite quickly.
  • The boundaries of districts, parishes, towns and European countries have changed frequently over time. Your ancestors may show up as being in one country in one census, and another country in the next census, when they lived in the same house during both censuses.