Thank you, Thomas Cromwell

I have become well used to the absence of records in Ireland. Only fragments of 19th century census returns have survived. Practicing Catholicism was illegal for many years. This is a powerful disincentive to the keeping of records. Even in the subsequent period, there are many gaps in parish records, and a knowledge of Latin is required. Civil registration started in 1865. The contrast with the situation in England is stark.

In 1538, Thomas Cromwell instituted the registration of births, marriages and deaths at the Parish level. (He was Chief Minister to King Henry VIII) The primary motivation would, in all probability, have been to help run the country. This means the collection of taxes. (I cannot exclude the possibility that he was a frustrated genealogist!) As a direct result, we have records stretching back nearly 500 years in England. The concept was extended in 1598 with the introduction of Bishop’s Transcripts. Copies of the Parish Registers were collected annually by the diocese. This provides a ‘belt and braces’ approach. If one set of records is missing then the others can be consulted. It is easy to take such a wealth of information for granted.

I have been trying to find documentary evidence about John Kelly. His sister Catherine married Patrick McHugh. Their marriage took place in Michigan in the late 1850s. State-wide registration only started there in 1867. The exact date remains unknown, indeed, unknowable.

From a census return we know that John’s daughter, Jessie, was born in 1869 in Nebraska. Registration was just starting there at that time. Jessie’s name does not appear with any certainty. Consequently, there is no information about the name of her mother.

Family folklore says that in 1873, Catherine and Patrick McHugh moved to Lincoln County, Missouri where John had a farm. I assume that if that if he lived there, then that is almost certainly where he died. And he probably did. As late as 1883, the Missouri State legislature laid down the format in which death records should be recorded. Strangely, it failed to make the collection of this information mandatory. Compliance was patchy. In 1893, it repealed the legislation. It took until 1910 to institute a new system that made recording of deaths compulsory. If John Kelly died before 1910 (when he would have been 70-80 years of age) then the information simply does not exist. Missing information is always a source of frustration. Let us be thankful for the wealth of data that does exist. Those of us with relatives from England are particularly well served. Please raise your glasses and toast Thomas Cromwell.