The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Some Pitfalls of the IGI and other Sources

By Michael Sewell

This article was originally published in the March 1997 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

It hardly needs stating that the IGI is indispensable and that none of us would have not got very far without it. In addition, indexes and lists such as those for the census or the Hearth Tax returns, are very valuable sources. However, it must be borne in mind that these are secondary, sources that need to be treated with some caution as I hope the following will show.

While searching through the IGI for Lincolnshire for the baptism of an ancestor, as yet unsuccessfully, I came across several crossovers that were not what they seemed.

The Lincolnshire IGI devotes about 23 pages to SEWELL, 15 to SAUL, 3 to SAYWELL, 3 to SOLLY and 2 to SOULE. The IGI publishes SEWELL and SAYWELL separately, although the names can be found being used interchangeably by the same family. In addition, if SAYWELL has been spelt SAWEL(L), in the IGI it tends to come under SAUL.

In the following examples, the surnames in brackets indicate where they appear in the IGI.

Between 1615 and 1627 at Somerby‑by­Grantham there were the baptisms of four children of Mawrice or Mawris Seawell (SEWELL) and one child of Mawris Sewell (SEWELL). He is probably the Maurice Sewell (SEWELL) who married Anne Rowse at Stroxton, a nearby parish, in 1610. Finally, a Maurice Seywell of the same place subscribed to the Protestation Oath of 1641. We can conjecture that Maurice was a Sewell/ Saywell, but there is no baptism for him in the IGI under either of those surnames. However at Somerby‑by‑Grantham in 1587 we find the baptism of Morris Sawell (SAUL). We may reasonably assume that this is the same man, although it would be advisable to check the original records. Here it seems that the IGI indexers, based upon the spelling alone, placed Morris Sawell, pronounced Saywell under SAUL.

I have found some other examples of SAYWELL, spelt SAWEL(L) being indexed under SAUL in the IGI, although it is not common in Lincolnshire. However, if you are looking for a SEWELL in the IGI and draw a blank, it is a good idea to look at SAYWELL and then at SAUL where it might be spelt SAWEL(L). Just to confuse the issue, we can find SAUL also spelt as SAWEL(L) as at Great & Little Hale where, between 1659 and 1662, we find the baptisms of Anna Saule, William Saule and Ann Sawell, the children of John, who is probably the John Saule who paid Hearth Tax in 1665. An examination of the original records would probably resolve the problem.

I have discovered a very good example of what can happen when information in a secondary source is published uncritically. This concerns the marriage of a certain William Sewell at Pinchbeck on 10 May 1664. There are two entries in the IGI for this event that could mean two Williams married on the same day, but this seems unlikely. The two entries are identical, except for the bride's name. In the first entry, William Sewell married Elizabeth Soul and in the second, William Sewell married Elizabeth Saul, who of course is indexed under both of the surnames. If we consult the columns of numbers on the right hand side of the page we find that there is a 20‑year gap between the entries, which suggests that we have two interpretations of a single record. Other entries for Pinchbeck indicate that she was actually a SOLE, but had someone been looking for the marriage of an Elizabeth Saul, they might have assumed that she married a William Sewell, unless the original records were consulted.

After examining several hundred records, it seems from the Lincolnshire IGI that if the Sole Society surnames ever came from a common source, or sources, they had become recognisably separate by the late 16th century. The crossover factor certainly applies to some extent to SEWELL and SAYWELL but the records given above are a very small proportion of the total and can probably be put down to faulty transcription. This can cause difficulties for us SEWELL researchers who seem to have more than our fair share of problems with early spelling though, no doubt, others will disagree!

It seems that the crucial factor could be the second letter of the surname, particularly when dealing with 17th and early 18th century records that use the "backwards" letter 'c'. If this is read incorrectly as 'o' then Sewell might be read as Sowell, and placed in the IGI under SOUL. If the backwards 'e' was interpreted as 'a' then Sewell might be turned into Sawell and put with the SAULs. Similarly, confusion between 'a' and 'o' could lead to Saul being recorded as SOUL and vice‑versa.

Finally, a cautionary tale regarding indexes, valuable though they are, and we must acknowledge the debt that we owe to the compilers and publishers. The Lincolnshire Family History Society has recently published a marriage index covering 1700 to 1750 which I consulted to try and find the marriage of my elusive ancestor, Samuel Sewell of North Lincolnshire. I was unable to find him under any of the usual variations, but did find the marriage of a certain Samuel SawekI and Agnes Dolby. It was fortunate that I already knew that Samuel's wife was called Agnes or I might not have taken much notice. When I consulted the Bishops Transcripts ‑ the parish registers had not survived ‑ it transpired that the index transcriber had misread the name, which was Samuel Sawel, and who, on the balance of probabilities, was my ancestor. This clarification gives rise to another problem; he is probably not a Saul, but was he a Saywell?

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