When searching into the past, we all rely on the accuracy of historical sources. Most of us won’t draw conclusions based on one source and will corroborate with other evidence. But isn’t it amazing how many lies our ancestors told? OK, so maybe some of them didn’t realise what tall stories they were telling though I would hazard a guess that plenty of them had a darned good idea that what they were recording on official (often legal) documents was a load of cobblers! Sometimes it is blindly obvious to the 21st century researcher the reason why they lied…. though irritatingly, not always.
I am sorry to tell you that, contrary to what today’s media would have you believe, illegitimacy is not a ‘new thing’ and I doubt (if anyone was able to collect accurate statistics to compare) that it is any more prolific now than it was in the 19th century. Although he is not related to me, Owen Sillifant is a member of my Sillifant worldwide surname study. However, if we DNA tested any of his descent line, his Y-DNA would not match any other Sillifant name bearers. His marriage certificate seems pretty ‘kosher’:
23 October 1924 at The Parish Church in Holsworthy, Owen Sillifant married Margaret Wilson. He was the son of Thomas Sillifant (decd), farmer. Erm…. no, he wasn’t!
Whether this was a lie on his marriage certificate, the only answer he could come up with (Thomas was his Sillifant grandfather’s name) or whatever…. it certainly sends today’s researcher up the garden path!
I have written before about my dear great-great-uncle, Whitby Baynham, who completely changed his name in 1900. Having been born as Whitby William George Baynham in 1873 and lived his life (including a spell in the Metropolitan Police Force) as Whitby until 1900, he moved to Bedford and lived the rest of his life as John Ford. His children are all registered as Ford, as is his death in 1945. Odd…. and clearly trying to hide something, if only I knew what!
Other people purported to be widows/widowers when they clearly were not – some people got away with it whilst others did not! I guess they hoped that there was no way of checking ‘back in the day’.
Sadly, John Thomas Middleton of Kidderminster was discovered and his bigamy was reported in the Portsmouth Evening News on 30 May 1931! The moral of the story is ‘Don’t Tell Lies‘ – for a variety of reasons but the main one being, your descendants will have a harder job finding out about you in the future! (though, of course, that might be the exact reason WHY you want to tell them in the first place!)