The St Catherine’s House Index

In the Index of Births Registered at St Catherines House from 1837-1937, I included some analysis of the records, 1947 in number, which feature in the index. The results of that analysis may be of interest to readers of Longshot.

The requirement to register a birth, marriage or death came into effect on 1 July 1837 in England and Wales and on 1 January 1855 in Scotland. The indexes of registrations are standard sources of information for family historians, and as such are often the first to be transcribed by groups researching a particular surname. Since most people can trace their family history back as far as their grandparents or great grandparents, it follows that a transcript covering the period up to about the turn of the century is normally sufficient to allow that ancestry to be extended back to the start of registration or beyond. By obtaining birth and death certificates, it is generally possible to trace back at least 150 years, at least on the direct line of descent. Access is usually required to other forms of records such as wills and census returns, in order to find details of the brothers and sisters of direct ancestors, since there is no way of telling from a birth certificate whether the child was an only child or one of many.

It is the fusion of these various sources of data that allows us to build up a complete picture of the families of our ancestors, and for that reason it was decided to include in this index as much additional information as could conveniently be presented. Thus, names of parents and spouses are included where these are known, together with details of occupations and baptisms, marriages and deaths.

As part of the introduction to the recently published index1All the data at St Catherine’s House is compiled from the copies sent in by local Registrars, and, as with any index of this magnitude, some errors and omissions inevitably occur. There is obviously further scope for error when the entries are copied out for inclusion in an index such as this one, both in the transcription from the original and also in entering the data into the computer.

The indexes give the name of the child, the registration district, and the reference, which includes a prefix according to the area and a page number. A copy of the certificate is obtained by quoting these details. Occasionally, duplicate entries appear, sometimes with slight variations in the name. Where this is known to be the case, the entry has only been included once in this index. Where two registrations are shown on the same page with the same Lin(d)field surname, a note has been added in the database to the effect that these might be twins, though such notes are not reproduced in this index. It is not necessarily the case that such entries are for twins however, since the situation may occur where two cousins are registered at the same time and the entries appear on the same page.

During the early years of civil registration many births were not registered, the extent of under-registration having been estimated to be at least 10%. This was particularly true for illegitimate children. From 1875, there was a penalty for failing to register the birth of a child within 42 days. This often led to parents giving a later date than was actually the case in order to avoid having to pay the fine. A birth could not be registered at all after 6 months had elapsed.

Using the database software, searches have been made of all the records bearing a GRO reference, in order to determine the numbers of such records conforming to the particular search criteria. For example, searching for LINFIELD records with the sex shown as female and the GRO reference commencing with ‘2b’, produces the number of females of that surname spelling registered in Sussex.

The analysis carried out so far has been confined to four aspects:

  • Surname spelling
  • Sex
  • Location and Migration
  • Birth rate

Spelling of Surname

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that most people are very conscious of the spelling of their particular surname, sometimes to the point where they take serious exception to any mis-spelling of it by others, it has to be said that this consciousness is, in genealogical timescales, a very recent phenomenon. Prior to the introduction of compulsory education, the vast majority of the population could neither read nor write, and therefore were probably unaware of any variations in the spelling on documents bearing their name.

Much of the documentary evidence available to modern historians and genealogists is in the form of civil or church records and as such was generally not written by the individuals to whom the records relate. The spelling employed by the writer in each case was no doubt determined firstly by what the clerk or official thought he had heard, and secondly by the way he had seen the name spelt elsewhere. Thus, the spelling on the baptismal record of a child might well have been influenced by that used for the previous children recorded in the Parish Register; similarly, the spelling used by an employer in his records might be taken from a letter of reference, or perhaps from a birth or marriage certificate, which itself contained a spelling chosen arbitrarily by the original writer. It also seems likely that such effects tended to introduce some element of continuity into what might otherwise have been a fairly random process, in which selection of a surname spelling depended only slightly on that used elsewhere in a family. Significantly, the consistency of spelling must have been much greater among the more literate social classes, who would have occasion to write their own names much more frequently.

Even greater variation was introduced due to the regional accents of those presenting themselves for marriage, or their offspring for baptism. It is likely that misunderstanding of accents would be more likely in the case of those who had migrated into areas distant from their place of birth. It is easy to forget that prior to the introduction of radio and television, many people would never hear accents from outside their own area and might reasonably be assumed to have had some difficulty understanding travellers from distant counties.

Among the 1947 Lin(d)field birth entries in the registers up to 1937, we find that the LINFIELD spelling accounts for 47.7% of the registrations in Sussex, and 41.8% of the total. Alternative spellings such as Linville, which are generally thought to derive from the same roots, have not yet been searched and transcribed.

The proportion of births registered with the LINFIELD spelling shows a slight decline during the 100 year period, though this may be due to the alternative spelling being adopted rather than an actual decrease in numbers in the LINFIELD family branches. There are in fact a number of families on record which seem to have added the second letter D to their names during the course of the 19th century.

Sex of Children

Whilst the St Catherine’s House Index does not include the sex of the child, there are very few cases where the name does not make this obvious. The practice among the Lin(d)field families has been to use fairly conventional names, and the only ambiguities are with names such as Jesse which have at various times been used for both males and females. This index has been compiled directly from the database, and, except in two or three cases, this contains other information which indicates the gender of the person. An analysis of the entries in the index reveals that the distribution of the sexes is as follows:

Studies have shown that throughout the population of the United Kingdom, male live births generally exceed female by about 6%, though mortality rates are higher for males in all age groups. The Lin(d)field families appear to show a similar bias, albeit with a lower marginal difference, the total for males being about 3.2% higher than the female figure.

Obviously, these figures do not take into account the effects of infant mortality, and it may well be that the proportions for children surviving beyond the age of 15 may show a bias one way or the other. Such bias can obviously account for the decline in numbers in some families, a higher rate of survival among female children tending to reduce the numbers in subsequent generations bearing the family name. In the period 1900-1902, infant mortality, defined as deaths of children under one year old, was estimated at 142 per 1000 live births; by 1969, this figure had dropped to 18.6 per 1000.2 Further studies would be necessary to determine the figures for the Lin(d)field families.

Location and Migration

Since the reference attached to each entry in the GRO index is based on a regional code, it is possible to use the database to examine statistics relating to the location and movement of the Lin(d)field families around the country. For example, the references for births registered in Sussex and part of Hampshire, all start with the characters ‘vii’ or ‘2b’. It is found that the total of such entries is 1136 out of the total 1947 births registered, or about 58%. For the period 1837 to 1869, 345 out of 472, or about 73%, were registered with this code. This tends to confirm the view that, having settled in Sussex several hundred years ago, the Lin(d)field families have not tended to venture away from that area to a great extent.

The most obvious exception to this pattern is in the case of Cheshire and Lancashire, identified by reference code 8. A total of 102 births were registered in those counties between 1852 and 1937, the earliest being in 1878. As far as can be determined at the present, this branch appears to have originated in Sussex.

During the latter part of the 19th century, there was a substantial movement of population from rural areas into large cities. The population of London, for example, more than doubled between 1841 and 1881, from 1.9 to 3.8 million, increasing again to 8.7 million by 1931.3 It is clear from census and other records, that some Lin(d)field families moved from Sussex to London during this period, perhaps in search of employment. It would seem however that any migration out of Sussex tended to be limited to London and the other adjacent counties. Of the 1761 births registered between 1852 and 1937, no less than 1575 or 89.4%, have a code beginning 1, 2 or 3a, indicating a birth in London and the Home Counties.4It may be of course that significant numbers emigrated overseas during this period; it is estimated that between 1815 and 1931, more than 20 million people emigrated from Britain to countries outside Europe. Even allowing for a substantial proportion of Scots and Irish in that number, this probably represents an annual rate of at least 1 in every 400 of the population of England and Wales. If the Lin(d)field families were typical of the general population, this would suggest that as many as 100 members of the Lin(d)field families might have been expected to have emigrated during the 100 year period. The fact that somewhat fewer seem to have done so would tend to confirm the trend noted already, that these families are less mobile than others.

A further indication of the extent of migration out of the Sussex area, is the proportion of all Lin(d)field births which have a reference starting with the 2b code:

Birth Rate

The number of births registered in each decade gives an indication of the trend in birth rates, particularly if the figures are expressed in proportion to the total population at the time. Since the population figures are only available for the census years, these figures have been used to indicate the population at the start of the decade in question. The number of Lin(d)field births is computed on the basis of the first 3 digits of the year, so that, for example, 1840 to 1849 is taken as a decade, and related to the 1841 census figures.

During this period the population of England and Wales increased steadily, as can be seen from the following graph, based upon the census figures.

If the numbers of Lin(d)field births are expressed as a fraction of the total population, the rate can be seen to be fairly consistent during the period up to the turn of the century. Birth rates generally declined from about 1900 and this trend is also evident in the Lin(d)field figures.

For much of the nineteenth century the annual birth rate was about 35 per thousand of the population. Taking the figure shown above of about 0.9 per million of total population, it may be estimated that the Lin(d)field population increased from about 400 to 700 during that period. Since this is based upon the number of births registered, this estimate includes all those born with the name, regardless of age and marital status. If about one third of those were below marriageable age, and about one third of the remainder had married and changed their names, the number of households might be in the order of 100. When a more comprehensive search has been made of all the census records, it may be possible to verify this figure.

There are however, several possible sources of error in these estimates, not the least of which is that of under-registration of births, particularly during the early years of civil registration. It has been estimated that perhaps 10% of births were not registered, and this seems to be borne out by the number of known Lin(d)field births for which no reference can be found. The population figures on the other hand, being derived from the census, are likely to have a significantly smaller degree of under-reporting. This estimate also assumes that the birth rate among the Lin(d)field families were similar to those in the population at large and that family sizes and mortality rates were also typical of the general population.

  1. Lindfield and Linfield Births Registered in England and Wales 1837-1937; edited by Alan Lindfield. Lin(d)field One Name Group, 1993.
  2. Know Britain, by Frank K Mason & Martin Windrow; Book Club Associates 1974.
  3. Source: census returns
  4. Defined here as Middlesex, Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire.

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