Answers to Questions


BARNETT, Watford Area, mid-19th century

February, 2008




Liz Parkinson (liz.parkinson @t of  Misterton, Somerset, writes: Family lore has it that my great-grandmother, Lucy Barnett, born in Bushey, was one of 24 children.  I am trying to trace them all, but as there were 3 Barnett women, all related, living in the area at the time she was born (Q2 1852), producing children whose births were registered at Watford, it is difficult sorting them out.

We exchanged emails and the following is based on my replies. The wider interest is that it shows how it is possible to use the censuses between 1841 and 1901 to reconstruct families and link them to birth registrations. There will be unmatched birth registrations (which may often link to the death registers) and in these cases it may be necessary to buy birth certificates to find out which family the child came from.


Charles Barnett Head 36 Tailor (Master) Bushey
Mary Barnett Wife 30   Watford
Ester Barnett Daughter 12 Scholar Bushey
George Barnett Son 11 Scholar Bushey
Ann Barnett Daughter 10 Scholar Bushey
Lucy Barnett Daughter 8 Scholar Bushey
Charles Barnett Son 7 Scholar Bushey
Harry Barnett Son 5 Scholar Bushey
Eliza Barnett Daughter 3   Bushey
Frederick Barnett Son 11 months   Bushey

High Street, Bushey, 1861 Census

The place to start is the census and the number of children. As I read the census Charles and Mary Barnett had 10 children (approx dates), Ester (1849), George (1850), Ann (1851), Lucy (1853), Charles (1854), Harry (1856), Eliza (1858), Frederick (1860), Charlotte (1863) and William James (1866).  This is a typical large family profile with normal spaces between children (longer as the mother ages) and few gaps. There is no room for more than about a couple of missing live births/infant deaths. This is the case whatever your family tradition. There is no practical biological way that Mary could have had 24 live births. Of course there are cases of bigamy where the husband had large families simultaneously with two (or more) different wives - but there is no reason to suspect this. If Lucy claimed to be one of 24 children it may be that several families lived and grew up together.

As to which child belongs to which family you mention George (born Q2 1856) and Harvey (born Q4 1856). You would normally expect a minimum of about 15 months between births - and less than 11 months would be almost unheard of. So George and Harvey must come from different families. Lucy already has a brother George (1850) so the George (Q2 1856) cannot be Lucy's brother. In fact the 1861 and 1871 census suggests that George (Q2 1856) was born at Rickmansworth (Watford registration district) and was the son of William and Emma Barrett. He had a brother Charles (1854) and sister Annie Louise (1866). The 1871 census lists Harvey - and again he comes from a different family - His mother was another Mary, brothers George (1850 - but NOT Lucy's brother) and Frederick (1852). (His father was probably James but I didn't find the 1861 census entry on a quick search).

The point I was trying to make is that for most of the children whose birth is listed in the birth register you should be able to find out who their parents were by looking at the census returns. In addition others can be eliminated because their birth dates are too close to the birth dates of other members of Charles and Mary's family to be Lucy's brothers or sisters. Looking at the register indexes will tell you the quarter the births were registered - but may also reveal a few problem cases - where two births with the same name occur close together - or where there is a birth that doesn't fit the census data (check the deaths - it may be a child that died in infancy).
In using the indexes it is important to realise that the reason the indexes are organised in quarters is because the manuscript books they index are also arranged in quarters. The "3a" volume for April-June 1856 is a completely different book to the "3a" volume for October-December 1856. Your question is based on a serious failure to understand how the births were registered and the indexes produced.
Let me emphasis that it is dangerous to rely on online indexes without knowing what is really being indexed, and why. Misunderstanding caused by rushing to find data online without "reading the manual" is a very common source of beginner errors.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.