7 Genealogy Nightmares for Halloween

Halloween Pumpkin

Just for a bit of fun I thought I’d list my top genealogy horror moments. I’m sure you’ve all had them too. Happy Halloween!


John Smith

That moment when you discover a mother’s maiden name was Smith, Clark(e), Davi(e)s or Williams. Worse still Mary Williams married John Smith. Born in the 1820s, they’ve moved from their home towns and your now trying to find them on the 1841 census. Good luck!


The one page that’s missing

Your ancestor was born about 1648, slap bang in the middle of the English Civil War. You’ve traced back this far, but now the parish register baptism pages are missing. And yes, you’ve checked BT’s, criminal records and newspapers. The local archives for the area are 200 miles away. On the plus side you’ve traced “the wife of your ancestors 3rd cousin 5 times removed” back to the beginning of time. Her family lived two miles away for you. And someone on Ancestry shared photos of her, and her ancestors going back to the creation of the camera. All fully sourced.


I just love that name!

William and Elizabeth had a son called William, who married a lovely lady, called Elizabeth. They have a son….and you guessed it…called it William. William Snr had a cousin, called William who also had a son called William (and a daughter called Elizabeth). Repeat. Across 5 generations. In a tiny village.


Er, how do you spell that please?

Your ancestor has a great, unusual name but unfortunately they were illiterate so it’s been recorded with a different spelling in every single document you’ve ever found. So which variant is “correct” and how do you record it?


General Labourers and Ag Labs

Your ancestor was a general labourer, and his father was an agricultural labourer. They don’t appear in any criminal, educational or workhouse records. You can’t find any mention of them in the newspapers. The news articles featuring their address are about local parish matters and the sale of houses. Or alternatively their neighbour was a bigamist, murderer who invented butter and you just can’t help but wish they were “yours”…but they’re not.


When I grow up I want to be a a…

My ancestor was a “Indian rubber factory, gelatine maker” (yes, true story). Your ancestor had an obscure job, the features of which you cannot even guess at. You can never find anything about it on the internet and it certainly does not feature in the “My Ancestor Was”…series of books.


Here Lies….

You have found the gravestone of your ancestor. You are elated! Most of your ancestors were paupers, so this is a real find. You go to visit and the stone is there….but all the writing has been eroded away. It’s effectively a blank stone. And yes you’ve tried cleaning it. And yes grave rubbings revealed nothing.