One of the problems facing a family historian concerns the way spelling of names tends to change over time. When literacy levels were low, an individual would not know how his or her name was spelt. It would be left to the scribe. Eventually things settle down. I have tended to use the latest version of a name throughout the narrative. Hence I refer to Stanley (the current spelling of the family name) and not Stanly (which appears on many documents in the mid nineteenth century).

Dates of birth

There are two main reasons for dates of birth fluctuating. Firstly, many people did not know how old they were. It was not that important on a day-to-day basis. In an age before pensions, you were either fit to work or you were likely to go hungry. When someone died, their age would often be estimated to the nearest five years. By checking different sources (census returns, marriage certificates etc.) I have arrived at a ‘best guess’. Secondly, if you had to be 18 or 21 in order to do something (such as join the army, or marry without parental consent) then there is a good reason for inflating your age.

John, John and John

Families like using the same names. The name John Stanley appears regularly. I started numbering them but this gave no sense of their place in time. I now add the date of birth. Hence there is John (b 1800) John (b 1825), John (b 1861) and John (b 1866). There are others still to emerge.


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