from Google Groups : soc.genealogy.britain
I'm new at researching family history and I'm afraid I may include
people in the family tree that don't belong but I've found a family
that have the right given names, surname and live in the right area
but two out of three are at least a year out with their ages. Even
allowing for the censuses being taken at slightly different times of
the year. There are no other candidates that come close to fitting the
circumstances. Did the Victorians often miscalculate their ages?
and an answer by Roy at his very best !
You exhibit a common error amongst newcomers to genealogy in allowing
yourself to think in a modern, present-day mindset! One of the very
first things you must learn in family history is that our ancestors
simply did not think or act in the same way as we do today, therefore
you have to try and forget how you see things and try to project
yourself back into their time and into their minds.
The plain fact is that things we tend to regard as sacrosanct, like
the correct spelling of our names and getting our ages right, simply
weren't so important to them. They had fewer dealings with authority
and officialdom than we do, rarely sent or received letters and
didn't have to carry around the copious bits of paper etc for
identification that we do. Their dealings with authority, when they
had to have them, were frequently tinged with suspicion and doubt,
since they took the view that if the government was interfering in
their lives, then it was probably up to no good.
There are numerous reasons why not just ages but also places of birth
differ from one census to another and are frequently at variance with
ages on birth and marriage certificates etc. In the case of those
born before civil registration came in in 1837 they may well
genuinely not have known precisely how old they were or where they
were born, since there was no piece of paper to tell them, only what
they might have been told by parents or grandparents and this could
easily be in error. Another reason was that people quite often lied
about their ages, perhaps because they had lied to a spouse when
marrying and had to keep up the lie. They also lied about their jobs
and means in order to advance their social status.
You will find as you gain more experience that varying ages in census
returns are the norm - a year or two is nothing at all unusual, often
it is quite dramatically more. People's given birthplaces can also
alter bewilderingly as well. And of course, enumerators made errors,
too! They were only human and if they had difficulty in reading what
someone had written on a schedule they wrote into their book what
they thought it was, or if they couldn't understand someone's accent
in describing their name or birth place, and the person giving the
information was illiterate, they wrote down what they thought they
As I said, you must try and suspend all ideas of looking at your
ancestors with a modern set of values. Try and see things as THEY saw
them, otherwise you will flounder around in the dark.
Web page of the Guild of One-Name Studies
Newbies' Guide to Genealogy & Family History
"Familiarity breeds contempt - and children."