Consistent inconsistencies.

As a general rule consistency is the friend of the genealogist. The more consistent records are, the more confident we are that we have the correct individuals in the records we have identified. This is particularly useful when dealing with common forename/surname combinations.

For example, if a person is recorded on the 1901 Census as being 42 years-old, on the 1911 Census as being 52 years-old and on their death certificate from 1927 as being 68 years-old, then logic dictates that this person was born circa 1859. Therefore, if we were to search for this person’s baptism, the obvious place to begin would be 1859, perhaps covering 2 years either side for good measure.

However, consistency can also be the enemy of the genealogist. Sometimes we can be too narrow in our focus because we place too much weight on consistency. Take for instance, the example above, what if this individual did not know their actual year of birth, but was consistent in the year they believed themselves to be born? We might pour through parish records for the 5-year period during which they simply had to be born…they simply must…WHERE ARE THEY!? And as you tear out the final hair on your head, it dawns on you, what if they had it wrong?

This same principle can be applied to other aspects that occupy the genealogist, for instance, place/county of birth. If record after record is telling you that your ancestor was born in Co. Mayo, then naturally this is where your focus will (and should) be.

But at some point, probably that one when its midnight and you’re on your laptop in bed, scanning through the same parish registers for the third time, your spouse snoring softly beside you having given up on their protests for you to ‘turn that darned thing off’, the thought should slip into your mind, but what if?

If for instance a family moves to Co. Mayo when someone is an infant, they may well never know that in fact they were born in Co. Sligo. As more and more records are digitised and indexed (e.g. the parish records on, these wider searches become much more feasible.

By Stephen Peirce

Research Expert

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