Read documents carefully to extract all internal evidence and compare all your sources.

Vital records are set out to a standard template, devised by bureaucrats. Even so, every civil record is an original document, and can sometimes contain surprising non-standardised details.

Recently I called up the death record of a young married woman. At first glance, the death seemed straight-forward enough. Mary Christina Meldrum died 7th May 1935 in Ballaghadereen, county Roscommon in Ireland. However when I began to read through the internal evidence of the document, I was surprised to see her age given as 21 years 4 months. After the first year, months are not usually recorded.

I checked back through the file, which had almost no supporting evidence – only a photograph of the family gravestone with the names of grandparents, parents and assorted aunts and uncles. Then I noticed a detail that had slipped by me before. On the gravestone

Mary baby Meldrum”

7th May 1935

Perhaps this was a mother and child that died in child-birth? I re-read the death cert, but this time interpreted it very differently. Mary Meldrum aged 21 years was the mother, but baby Meldrum aged 4 months now had a name – Christina. The informant was Mary Meldrum’s father, and baby Christina’s grandpa, Mr. P.J. Lynnott.

The Registrar, contrary to all the rules, allowed Mr. Lynott to register two deaths on one certificate. Although the evidence was slim – a death cert and a gravestone – it was enough to allow me pick apart this knotty problem.



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