Saturday, December 15, 2012

Errors in Civil Registration Records

If you have been researching your Irish ancestry for a while, you have probably used the civil registration index and may have on occasion come away perplexed that the person you are looking for isn't there.  There are numerous reasons why this might occur.

1. The event might not ever have been recorded. I have seen estimates that maybe as many as 15% of events eligible for civil registration suffered that consequence. In that case, you obviously won't find your record.

2. The family was legitimately recorded under a name that you don't expect, for example, a secondary name or agnomen. Although civil registrars did generally achieve some consistency in how family names were recorded, sometimes inconsistencies fell through. For example, I have seen inconsistencies as late as 1880, in which a child was recorded as Driscoll in the baptism record but as Cadogan in the civil registration record, and the other children in the family were recorded in civil registration as Driscoll.

A good book about the subject is Varieties and Synonyms of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland, by Robert Matheson, published in 1890 as a guide for registrars.

3. An error was made either while creating the civil registration record or while transcribing the record for the index. Registrars may have had hard-to-decipher handwriting.  And they did make errors. Just as priests may have transposed the name of the father and the godfather on a baptism, a registrar may have put the surname of a witness on one of the bridal party, for instance. Errors while transcribing names, volume numbers, page numbers, and districts will negatively affect your search.

Here is one example in which the surname of the groom and of his father are wrong, in my opinion. However, the burden of proof is on me to show that it is wrong. Otherwise, I would be fabricating my family tree, and that would be fraudulent just as much as it would be to claim people have certain parentage without supporting documentation. When faced with a record containing an error, I have to find other evidence supporting the family history model. Ideally, if I were to turn over all my documentation to an independent researcher, that independent researcher would arrive at the same conclusion.

In this civil marriage record, I believe the groom and his father were named DRISCOLL, not MCCARTHY. It is easy to see how this mistake was made. The bride's name and that of her father were MCCARTHY, as were the two witnesses. I think the MCCARTHY name accurately appears four times. Now imagine a busy, distracted civil registration clerk copying down this information, and it isn't a great stretch of the imagination to see how this mistake might occur.

Marriage Record showing Name of the Groom as McCarthy, not Driscoll
Where is my evidence that this record is wrong?

Exhibit 1: Church Marriage Record

Caheragh R.C. Parish record of John Driscoll and Mary McCarthy
The groom's name is recorded as DRISCOLL. It has the same date, same priest, and same witnesses as the civil registration record. In addition, these were real witnesses. In other words, they were acquaintances or relatives of the bride and groom and not just standing in at the convenience of the priest while he performed several marriages. Look at the other marriages the priest did around the same time. There are different witnesses for each marriage performed by this priest. Also - very important - there is NO marriage around this time between a John McCarthy and a Mary McCarthy performed by John Wall in this parish at this time.

Exhibit 2: Children's Baptism Records

I am showing only one here for brevity.

Baptism record of Margaret Driscoll

Exhibit 3: Children's Birth Records from Civil Registration

I am showing only one here for brevity.

Civil Registration record of Margaret Driscoll's birth

Exhibit 4. Land Valuation Records

Revision of Cloghdonnell DED
It is impossible to demonstrate the non-existence of something. However, I have to do due diligence and look for a John McCarthy, son of a Daniel McCarthy, residing in Garranemore. From checking Caheragh Tenure books and Griffiths Valuation, so far I have come up with McCarthys but not a Daniel or a John. My final check is the Revision Book up to the time of the marriage.  I notice there is a Jeremiah McCarthy, and in fact that is the name of one of the witnesses to the marriage.  But still no Daniel or John.

I consider the land valuation books the weakest evidence, as non-leaseholders would likely not have been recorded.  The better evidence is probably the parish register showing there was no such marriage.


If you can, view the civil registration data films, not just the index films. Browse through all the entries for that that registry office.  A strategy that has paid off a few times for me has been to estimate the quarter and year the event I am seeking would have been recorded and browse the data film for that time period, even if the event is not in the index. Every time I have done so and have found a record, I've learned something in the process.

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