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My cautionary tale: John turned out to be Joseph

Backtracking through the census to find ancestors

The UK census has been instrumental in uncovering ancestors on my father’s paternal side of the family. All I knew at the outset  from my Grandfather’s death certificate was the name of his mother,  and his father – including his father’s date of birth and place of birth. That was enough information to get started.

The 1911 Census

In this census I found my grandfather; the names of his siblings, his mother and father. I ordered my grandfather Stanley Forshaw’s  marriage certificate which gave me my great Grandfather’s name – Henry James Forshaw. Working backwards through the 1901, 1891, 1881, 1871 censuses provided names of siblings and wives. I could also get an idea of the type of life my ancestors were living because of the occupations listed on the census.

The searching process is somewhat like a set of dominoes. Once one clue is solved, another falls into place.  Each successive marriage certificate gave me the name of another parent and searching through the census from 1911 to 1871 was providing me with a detailed family tree. I had traced the FORSHAW line back to 1851. Or so I thought.

Don’t these people have any imagination?

My surname: FORSHAW is not that common in Australia. However, in Lancashire, England, FORSHAW is a very common name. And because in those days, families appeared to have hordes of children, the number of FORSHAWS  kept multiplying exponentially; all with similar forenames. John Forshaw , my Great Great Grandfather was born in 1850, in Ormskirk, Lancashire. So were many others. I believed I had the correct John Forshaw, born in 1805. A public tree on ancestry.com also seemed to verify this – everything fit so I  entered all the data about this John and his family.

When the marriage certificate finally arrived, my Great Great Great Grandfather was not who I’d thought: John FORSHAW – it was a Joseph FORSHAW. Oh Dear!.

To correct this mistake would take many hours and, in effect, it was like starting again. All information from 1881 back to 1851 needed to be deleted.

Now begins the breadcrumb trail.

The 1851 UK census:

1851 census - Joseph Forshaw

knew nothing about my GGG grandfather other than his name and that he was deceased at the time of my GG Grandfather’s marriage in 1873.Joseph’s occupation is listed as a Beer House Keeper which fits with the information on my GG Grandfather’s  marriage certificate where he is listed as a Beerseller. His wife is Alice – some information I hadn’t known. The eldest son, Peter is 3, therefore I can assume they have been married for 3 years. I can now search for a marriage certificate  from 1846 – 1850. My GG Grandfather, John is 11 months – this all fits as he was born in 1850.

The 1861 UK Census

By the 1861 UK census, Joseph Forshaw was deceased as Alice is listed as a widow. However, there are more children, all born between 1851 and 1861. All these children can be entered onto the tree to be researched at a later date. The last child, Margaret is just 3; therefore I can search for a death certificate from 1859-1861.

1861 Census - Alice Forshaw - Widow


The moral of the tale

1. Don’t get  drawn in by the winking leaves on  ancestry.com as they could possibly be leading you astray.

2. If you have access to ancestry.com public trees, be very careful about what information you  take from someone else’s tree. This is what I did and look where it got me. What’s more, someone else took the incorrect information from me and added it to their tree. These errors will self perpetuate across the webosphere.

3. Check your sources and then check again. Order the marriage, birth and death certificates to verify your information.

4. If you’re using software to build your tree, like Family Tree Maker, make sure you have adequate backups and backups (versions) made at different times during the life of your tree. For example, once I’d discovered I’d been following the wrong family, it was easier to delete the tree and restore an earlier version which did not include the incorrect information.

About the author

Michele Berner

Permanent link to this article: http://genealogyclues.com/?p=488

1 comment

  1. Michael Riley

    I have had the same issue on ancestry. One person adds a false ‘fact’ and then it propagates to everyone else. In my case someone tagged my ancestor as dying at sea. I checked the death certificate and there was no way it could be true, but I found it very hard to kill the false fact on ancestry.

    Your cautionary tale iwas worth posting.



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