A Cautionary Tale
by Ian Sewell
This article was originally published in the August 2006 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Like most people who have been in this hobby for a few years I have learnt to take all information found with a pinch of salt and check for corroborating evidence. Ages and relationships in any census are suspect and so is information provided by relatives, but up to now I have always considered the information of the GRO certificates to be accurate. I mean who would lie on their wedding certificate (apart from my Great Grandmother who lied about her age as she had fallen out with her parents – buts that another story), after all it’s an official document ….. isn’t it?
I have spent the last few months researching my friend’s family tree and with help of the census had been able to trace all the lines back to the 1841 census except one. D. Hobbs, husband of Alice Crouch and father of Florence Hobbs, my friend’s Great Grandmother. I had Florence’s birth certificate in 1882 which gave her father as D. Hobbs a Butcher in Downton, Wiltshire. Unfortunately there were a couple of D. Hobbs in Downton, Hobbs being quite a popular name in that area, and none of them were butchers or single. So I looked in the census records for 1891 and found Florence and the rest of the family living with her mother’s family in Beulie but no sign of D Hobbs. Similarly in 1881 there was Alice Hobbs living with her parents and no sign of D Hobbs.
So the next stage was to find their marriage which was in Woolwich, for some reason I have yet to find out! Irritatingly it gave their ages as ‘of full age’. So he was over 21 but apart from that not much use. It did though give his full name as Daniel Hobbs and his father’s details - one George Hobbs, a gentleman. Now we were talking. After searching through lots of labourers and cobblers here was something interesting, a gentleman. So I set out to finding George Hobbs and his son. After some time I admit to getting a bit frustrated as I could find no trace of George Hobbs in any records I searched. No matter which angle I tried I had no luck.
In the end I remembered I had not checked the 1901 census and after a few tries I found the family now living in Southampton and for once Daniel Hobbs was recorded. Born in 1849 in Downton, Wiltshire which fitted with Florence’s birth. But when I searched the census records for Daniel Hobbs in Downton the only one that I could find was one Daniel Hobbs married to Eliza Shave son of James Hobbs, a pond digger! So much for being a gentleman.
Further research confirmed the family links and the fact that the George Hobbs, a Gentleman on the wedding certificate was a complete lie. So the moral of the story is that GRO certificates can also be inaccurate, if not downright wrong and these too must be treated with caution unless you have corroborating evidence.
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