The Fallacy of the Radius Search in England
Richard W. Price, MA, AG®
Family historians in earlier decades did not have access to the multitude of records we have today. They had few indexes and found it necessary to use a five-mile, then a ten-mile search around the known residence of the ancestor, searching in parish registers. If they searched all parish registers or bishops transcripts within ten miles of the known parish of residence and found one christening that appeared to be ancestral, they would often accept it as ancestral and then begin the task all over again of seeking the closest possible ancestor for the next generation back. While this sometimes worked, there was rarely evidence to support or refute the possible ancestor. There are a myriad of sources in English archives that make such an approach a waste of time. Discussion will be made showing examples of how ancestral origins were determined without such a tedious waste of research effort.
Don’t waste time with radius search if you already have the ancestor. Seek other records to prove or disprove the connection. Consider the circumstances of the ancestor. If he was a common labourer, what are the chances of finding him named in a will? Even if you find his christening, how will you know it is ancestral?
There was a high rate of under registration in parish registers, and it was especially poor 1795-1820. With such record failure and under registration, the chances of finding ancestors in such a radius search can be very slim. The bishop’s transcripts can be compared to the parish registers. The PRs are generally original and hence more accurate, but this is not always the case. In the parish of Guiseley, the parish registers were compared to BTs. There were discrepancies in 29% of the entries, with an even higher percentage 1780-1812. Civil registration was not compulsory until 1875, so those records have flaws as well. There is a better choice with poor law records, manorial records, military sources, etc.
Examples of Ancestral Finds in Sources Other Than Parish Registers:
A. Smith family of Lancashire (Settlement Certificate)
John Smith of Blackburn, labourer
Radius Search produced 8 possible christenings
All Smith probates were read within ten miles of Blackburn 1780-1841. All parish registers, including non-conformist, were searched within ten miles of Blackburn. Nothing was found.
A settlement certificate was found in the poor law records of Blackburn indicating John Smith was from Liverpool, 35 miles from Blackburn. We could never have solved it using a radius search in parish registers and probate records. Poor Law records gave the answer.
B. Cannon Family of Somerset (Biography/Family History)
John Cannon’s Memoirs
Miraculous extension of several families many generations beyond parish register availability.
Beaton family also extended using Poor Law Records
C. Daynes family of Norwich (Banns and Quarter Sessions)
Banns show ancestor was is of the county jail and Quarter Sessions indicate why he was imprisoned.
D. Samuel Cole of Bedfordshire. Origins determined from Quarter Sessions.
E. Websdale family marriages found (Constable’s Accounts; County History)
Tibenham, Norfolk family Websdell, Brothers, etc.
Constable’s Accounts; Other Poor Law Records solve the problem.
Churchwardens “forced” John Websdell to marry woman he got pregnant, but no marriage found in the parish registers.
Why was John Websdell’s married to two women, but no marriage record?
Blomefield’s History of Norfolk indicated the incumbent of Tibenham had the benefit of another living at Besthorpe, and obviously chose to conduct the majority of his marriages there.
G. Randalls, Baptists of Wiltshire/Somerset located in Non-Conformist Records
H. Mary Smith had illegitimate daughter in Alphington, Devonshire in 1808. From bastardy bond in Churchwarden Accounts, It was determined the father of the child, William Cording, was of Bridgewater, Somerset, some 50 miles distant.
I. James Widlake of Cutcombe, Somerset and Marie his wife, only daughter of William Sealie late of Morbath, Devon, yeoman, deceased names his further son Arthur Sealie, second son William Sealie of Morbath, deceased, William Sealie the younger contracted land to William Sealie and John Sealie sons of George Sealie, brother. Three generations of family put together, living 12 miles apart. No wills exist for Devon or Somerset, so this is an invaluable record found in Chancery Proceedings.
J. John and Jane Perry residing in Cosgrove, Northamptonshire show they have legal residence in village of Potterspury. This comes from Settlement Certificate in Churchwarden Accounts and Overseers of poor. No need to do radius search, we know where they are from.
K. Chancery Proceedings 1635 gives four generations of the Mantle family, along with residences and son-in-law as well as grandchildren of the families. All this in a single document.
L. William Goodchap, son of Abraham of Chippenham, Wiltshire is apprenticed to Thomas Maddocks, house carpenter of Bristol 1716. This gives occupations and residences of William Goodchap and his father, as well as the man he is apprenticed to for seven years and where he will be trained and living for the next seven years, about 12 miles from his home.
M. Flint families – use of Ince pedigrees helped to prove relationships in the family, and take it back several generations. Then, after conducting a radius search which included likely 50 parishes, the marriage we had sought for 20 years was found in the British Vital Records Index.
There are a multitude of other sources, especially in England, which can correctly identify ancestors of any social and economic class. Even the poor are included in poor relief records and other sources. These examples show the necessity of examining all available records in the ancestral parish where important events in the pedigree took place. Things often are not what they seem to be. Using numerous sources to properly draw conclusions, takes much of the guesswork out of family history research.
Baxter, Angus. In Search of Your British & Irish Roots. A Complete Guide to Tracing Your English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Ancestors. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986.
Herber, Mark D. Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. Bridgend, UK: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997. (FHL 942, D27).
Hoskins, W.G. Local History in England. 3rd ed. London: Longmans, 1984. (FHL 942, H2), 1984.
Paper presented at UGA Annual Conference – Salt Palace – Salt Lake City, Utah 8-10 April 2004.