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In my family history research I have often found that one or two of the easy-to-find records are inexplicably missing. Sometimes, as in the case of census records, it is because the family wasn’t where I expected them to be, but other times, as in the case of birth, death & marriage records, it could be due to me not having a correct date or place to start with, or the event occurred before compulsory registration came in, or that records were destroyed in some way, or the record simply does not exist. But an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I know that these people lived and breathed and had children, and I know from the records I have found where & when they thought they were born, but in my many hours of searching a variety of spellings, locations, dates and indexes, I have yet to find the records I seek.

How then do I get around these missing records? Simple, I don’t. I gather the presumed facts from the records I have found and I put them all together and if everything matches up, then I might be able to at least record a year or a general location, but until I find that missing record with that last date and location, there will always be a presumption of that piece of data. I do keep in mind however that as time progresses, more and more historical records are coming online, and that sooner or later, another piece in the puzzle may come to light that leads me that little bit closer to an answer.

As an example, I am currently looking for the birth date of an ancestral aunt, Sarah Hardman. I know on her marriage certificate from October 1866, she states that she was born in Belfast Ireland, and that she gave her age as 33 years. If I take this at face value and that she has not adjusted her age up or down for vanity reasons, I can reasonably guess that she was born in 1833. While this is a reasonable guess, I have not taken into account the three months remaining in the year where she could still have her 34th birthday, thus pushing her birth back to 1832. I can now narrow her birth date down to the 12 months between her marriage date in October of 1832 and the same date in 1833.

When the information from her death certificate I have ordered arrives, it should have the date she died and the age she was at that time, well, the age the informant thought her to be anyway.  This extra information should hopefully allow me to narrow down her date of birth even further. If I then combine that with other information gathered from her children’s birth’s, or from her spouse’s death, or from newspaper announcements, then I may even be able to narrow down her date of birth to a specific month.

By looking at each individual piece of information both separately and together in the larger picture, then educated guesses can be made, and if the missing record never turns up, then at least you have a year or even month as well.  Keep in mind though that sometimes people adjusted their ages for a variety of reasons, some we can guess at, but others we can only wonder why. For the same reasons, some people altered the place of their birth, either by mere kilometers, or sometimes by hundreds or even more. Then of course, putting marriage aside for women, some people changed their name – or had their name changed for them.

Name change reasons are much more varied but usually obvious. Literacy and the ability to check what another person has written is one main factor, another would be how a person thinks a name should be spelled based on how they hear the word being pronounced by the person saying it. Siddle, Siddell, Sidle, Sydall – all pronounced the same way, yet each spelled a different way, and there are probably more alternatives for this name as well.

Lastly, when looking for records that are apparently missing, keep in mind what the father’s occupation was. Was it one that could have taken him away from home frequently, could he have registered a child’s birth or death in another part of the country to where the event actually happened? Was he in the military, could the record be hidden in his military record or in the records of his regiment, rather than with the country’s records office?

Think laterally and outside the box, and keep your fingers crossed, but don’t spend every minute on it, but also, don’t give up until you are certain it doesn’t exist.

Happy hunting.

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