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Names: Incomplete

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Names: Incomplete
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Summer 2000 and Revised: 4 May 2004

We found an interesting article dated 15 Jun 2000 by John McLinden posted on Lanark-L@rootsweb.com explaining why early church records sometimes have names with either the first or last name missing. Here is what he had to say:

    There are a number of reasons why the forename was not recorded, but among the commonest were the following:

    It was the habit (forgive the religious pun!) in times past for the priest to record hatches, matches and despatches in a pocket book or similar at the time and only to transfer this information into the register at long intervals - typically at the end of the year. As a result, anything that he failed to record at the time was often long forgotten and the participants quite often had moved away or were too far away in the parish for him to bother going there to find out. As a result of this laziness, the information just never got recorded.

    There are many recorded (or not, depending on which way you look at it!) instances of the notes getting lost and a whole year's worth of entries being lost. I have suffered from this problem myself - 1610 burials in Boxford Suffolk are an example. There is nothing more frustrating than going to the register and finding a blank page for the year involved! The more honest priests made some sort of effort to reconstruct the data and it is actually stated in the registers involved but others just didn't bother. An 18th century verger in Naughton used pages from the registers to light his pipe with!

    Don't just rely on the IGI, however. Although it is a very good guide, it is heavy with errors and much has not been transcribed by them. You should always have a look at the original register (or film of it) to check that the entry is what the IGI says it is. You may also find marginal notes there which the priest added but which the IGI have not transcribed.

    Before anyone starts, however, I am NOT knocking the IGI - which can be extremely helpful.

    Another common reason for the lack of a forename is that although the parents brought a child to be baptised, they then changed their minds - for whatever reason - and went away without the ceremony being completed. Some priests would still record this in the register as best they could, but sometimes the forename was never given.

    Another reason is for foundlings where they may have been at death's door at the time of baptism and the finder's name was used as a surname and no forename chosen in the rush to shrive the child before it died. Not nice, but a fact of everyday existence in those times.

    Hope this helps, although I am sure others will come up with additional reasons.

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