Watch out for mischief making

John Vayro
John Vayro

WHEN the record books are not all they should be, it’s worth taking a step back.

As family tree researcher John Rennison Vayro (left) explains, there are times when historical documents veer from reality.

IT is worth having a look at some of the books that are now available on family ancestry.

There are many titles in the Reference Library at the Central Library in York Road, Hartlepool.

At present there are also four family history magazine titles available in the United Kingdom as well as one in Ireland.

One particular book suggests that parish clerks, who entered the information in the original registers, may have deliberately been mischievous in the spelling of people’s surnames.

Nicknames may have affected surnames, influencing a clerk’s written version of what was said to him. The argument appears to be that some of the close variations of surnames may not simply be a clerical mis-spelling, or a genuine misunderstanding by the clerk but was possibly deliberate mischief by the scriber of the register entry.

Occasionally clerks may have mis-spelt names deliberately, secure in the knowledge that the family concerned was not in a position to read the entry, to argue or object.

A prime example of this was the baptism records for Masham for what were obviously the same family, a certain Thomas VARO and his wife Catherine nee Spence. Their son John was baptized as PHAROAH in 1830 whilst son William was shown as VAYRO in 1832, and a further son George as PHAROAH in 1834. In that same year Thomas himself was buried at Masham, and his namesake and final son Thomas was born and died in 1835 having been baptized as VARO.

It is interesting to note that in the register for two of these children his wife is not shown as Catherine, but is inscribed as Ann or Elizabeth.

On his gravestone the inscription reads Thomas VARO died age 38 but the official register puts him down as aged 34. So how can one be certain of tracing an ancestor with so many inaccuracies?

Was the family illiterate? Probably! Or was it the Clergyman or Churchwarden who mis-heard and made incorrect entries in the register?

In the end I decided that it didn’t really matter a great deal, but whilst searching for hard factual evidence, it was often necessary to compromise or make assumptions.