GRO UK birth registration districts for Yorkshire 1848

+3 votes
The new website for GRO UK (General Register Office Uk is a marvelous resource now that it give mother's maiden names but I have great trouble understanding the registration districts.

In particular for Yorkshire. I am searching for [[Johnson-38419|James Johnson]] whose Australian death crtificate states he was born in Yorkshire to Joseph Johnson and Mary Sinclair. James was born around 1848. Unfortunately I can not find James Johnson and mother Sinclair on the GRO site over a 20 year span. He may be one of the few listed without mother's maiden name but I can not work out which registration districts would apply to Yorkshire at this time. I am afraid to admit I am Yorkshire naive!

Could anyone help with the districts I should be looking at? I am hoping then to see if I can find him/them in the 1851 and 1861 censuses. I understand birth registration was compulsory but some must have slipped through I suppose. Of course there is always the possibility his surname and parents are wrong. His parents are not named on his marriage certificate but his wife's are. He came to Australia around 1866 but I haven't found his ship or date of arrival as yet. He is proving to be a phantom.

Many thanks
WikiTree profile: James Johnson
asked in Genealogy Help by Dee Baker G2G2 (2.4k points)
retagged by Abby Glann
With the information being from his death certificate, there's a chance some of it might be wrong, depending how well informed the informant was.  I've come across at least one death record in North America where (like this one) they gave the birth surnames of both parents, and got the mother's maiden name wrong.  I think the informant in that case was a spouse, so a child of the deceased for instance might have more interest in the information.  

If your relative emigrated around 1866, then it makes the 1851 census record someone found in another comment less likely to be the right one, although it's the best match to the information you have that I can see as well.  This is because I think I've found the same family 1871, and James is still with his mother (  But if you're not very sure on the emigration date, it could be right still.  In case it's of any use to you, I think this is the same family in 1841 ( and in 1861 (  Unfortunately since the 1841 census doesn't list relationships, there's no way to tell if Joseph Atkinson is a relative (e.g. Mary's father) or just a lodger.

It's a pretty frustrating looking problem, maybe in time as more church records become available online you'll be able to find a christening for him, or a marriage for his parents.  I'm a bit surprised the figure given for unregistered births is as high as 15%, there are certainly plenty of them in my family tree but I wouldn't think it's as high as that.  But you'd have to be very unlucky for there to be no christening as well as no birth registration - again, it wasn't a legal requirement, and some people didn't get their children christened very promptly or even at all, but you'd have to be pretty unlucky to find your chap wasn't christened as well as not having his birth registered I think.

Good luck with it!

Thank you very much for your suggestions. You have revived my enthusiasm for this family connection. I have looked again into the Huddersfield family. They do seem the most likely. Especially as James’s oldest son was Benjamin Joseph. Who, if Huddersfield is correct, would have been the older brother of James.

My only hesitation is that In the 1871 census James is a tobacconist. His death certificate says he was a quarrier. The skill set doesn’t ring true to me but clearly not impossible. I am looking for more evidence of his occupation in Australia. 

Would it be appropriate to put the Huddersfield family on Wikitree with a link from Research Notes in James Johnson’s profile?

As you say, it's a slightly unusual career progression, but not impossible, especially given he'd changed country and different skills might have been in demand in Australia, and have paid differently, than in Yorkshire.

I'm no big expert on WikiTree, but I can't see it causing any problems if you make profiles for the Huddersfield family assuming there aren't profiles for them already.  The only exception is James, since he might be the same as your ancestor and we're supposed to avoid making duplicate profiles of the same person in as far as possible.

At the end of the day, there is a certain amount of guesswork in most pre-1837 English genealogy unless the family was rich and left more records than most (if John Johnson was married in village X and there was a John Johnson christened in village Y nearby, was it the same chap or did he in fact move halfway across the country to end up in village X instead?).  So it seems to me that unless someone else is particularly interested in the family and has their own view that might differ from yours, it's up to you to decide how much evidence is needed to connect your profile as the child of the Huddersfield family.  Probably, as you say, on the current amount of evidence it's more sensible to connect him via notes that explain the evidence and the doubts.  If someone else is interested in them, you'd need to come up with a consensus view with them on what to do.

I had another quick look just now - it looks like the mother was still in Huddersfield in 1881 ( - unfortunately you can't see on FS who she's living with!  It might be worth checking if you can do that easily, just in case it's her son James with his name garbled.  Also I can't see a death registration for him in Huddersfield between 1871 and 1881.

I'm not at all familiar with Australian records - is it unusual for the parents not to be named in a marriage record, and do you have any idea why that might have happened if it's not usual?  In English records, the father was normally the only parent listed and if his name was left out then typically it was because he wasn't married to the mother, and lots of times I've seen examples in the registers where a vicar has written the father's name (or started doing) but then crossed it out when he realized the parents weren't married. Other vicars were happy to write the father's name in regardless, which was much more helpful to us.

Another thought - is there any chance a local paper might have published an obituary for him when he died?  I've seen some American ones that were amazingly detailed and helpful.
Thanks Corinne,

I have a subscription to Findmypast at the moment and I was able to check out the Census. The previous page has Mary living with her son Tom and his family. Interestingly he is a “master bricklayer” a little closer to a quarryman than a tobacconist. Makes me think that the switch from tobacconist to quarryman is more likely.

I have searched the Australian paper archives for a death notice but unfortunately no success there. Perhaps because it was War time and his sons were serving away. His wife died before him. Also no probate or will. Parents are usually named in marriage records but in this case only his wife’s parents are named. I now see that the death was registered by the hospital which makes it more likely that his mother’s surname is incorrect.

I'm not at all familiar with Australian records - is it unusual for the parents not to be named in a marriage record,

commented ago by Corinne Morris


On the Queensland certificates I have, both parents are listed for both parties .. and their occupations.  On the one historical Victorian marriage certificate I have, same deal.  on my American certificate, neither parent is mentioned.  The couple of historical Scottish certificates I have, both parents and occupations.

I forgot to say: if all you're looking at is the online index, then parents do not usually appear there.  You have to PAY to get all that information.
Yes Melanie I have the full marriage certificate as recorded in the State Records. Only his wife’s parents are named. I suppose it is possible that his parent’s were not transcribed by the minister on the official form.

Or perhaps James Johnson did not disclose them. He doesn’t appear to be as successful in life as his siblings in Yorkshire (that is if he is from Huddersfield ) perhaps he didn’t want to acknowledge them for some reason??

5 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer

"I understand birth registration was compulsory"  - Although civil registration began in England in 1837, it only became compulsory to register the birth in 1875, and fines were levied for any parent not registering.  Prior to that, it's estimated that about 15% of all births went unregistered.

Having said that, Yorkshire is a really big area with some areas having a high population, so your chap might turn up, there are a lot of James Johnsons on Freebmd between 1845-1850 registered in either the East, West or North Ridings so he could be out there.  Do you know of any siblings he had, it might be possible to track them too, perhaps James wasn't born in Yorkshire but all his siblings were so an assumption was made by someone somewhere down the line.


answered by Brenda Butler G2G6 Mach 4 (40.5k points)
selected by Dee Baker
I didn't know about registration was only compulsory from 1875. That information is helpful for another road block that I have.

I don't know any siblings unfortunately and his children's names don't give any obvious hints. His oldest son Benjamin Joseph appears to be named for his wife's brother and his father. One son is Arthur, a name that doesn't appear in his wife's family.

Thanks for your help.
+4 votes

Hmm ... this one's tough ... I tried a number of my secret techniques to no avail ... I suspect the underlying data may not be there.

I did unearth this chappie who might be your man but not only can I not find his birth, I can't find his siblings' births or parents' marriage. The last is not surprising as it would almost certainly pre-date 1838.

"England and Wales Census, 1851," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 24 July 2016), James Johnson in household of Joseph Johnson, Huddersfield, Yorkshire,Yorkshire (West Riding), England; citing Huddersfield, Yorkshire,Yorkshire (West Riding), England, p. 46, from "1851 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey

answered by Matthew Fletcher G2G6 Mach 7 (70.6k points)
Thank you for your help Matthew. I will follow up the Huddersfield family James' first son is Benjamin and the Huddersfield Johnsons also have a Ben, could be a clue. Although James's wife Mary Davies also has a brother Benjamin.
+3 votes
The GRO index only allows searching by registration district, the number of registration districts covering the 4 parts of Yorkshire is likely to be in 3 digits. You would be better to search this on by the 4 Yorkshire County's (North, South, East & West - p.s. East is sometimes called Humberside) and then look at the registration districts that come up there, This is a common surname in the UK so your likely to get a lot of matches.

However looking at this in a different way, on the 1851 UK census there are only 4 James Johnson's born within 5 years of 1848 where there is also a person called Joseph in the household and the family live in Yorkshire. But when this is then refined down as having a mother called Mary as well (which has to be done manually by viewing the records) there are only 2 options James Johnson b. 1847 Huddersfield (West Riding of Yorkshire) and James Johnson b, 1850 Fearby, Leyburn (North Riding of Yorkshire).

As your James married in 1892, i had a look for these 2 James' in 1901 in England. Neither were easy to find so both lines would need to be reviewed in each census to see which one disappears. There are also 4 James Johnson's on the migration tab for findmypast arriving in Australia around the right time with the right range of birth years

I hope this helps you with a direction to research further for this ancestor :)
answered by Paula Dea G2G6 Mach 5 (52.9k points)
Hello Paula

I've searched the GRO index without a registration district selected successfully many time.  Also Humberside is a relatively new county (post 1974)and this would have been covered by the East Riding, and a bit in the North Riding of Yorkshire during the timeframe of James Johnson c1848.
+2 votes
I have searched all James Johnsons' whose birth was registered between 1846 & 1850 in the three Registration districts of Yorkshire,(North, East & West Ridngs) in the GRO register and unfortunately none produce a mother's surname of Sinclair.There are handful that are silent on the mother's maiden name.

Matthew's Joseph, Mary & James living in Huddersfield in 1851, has James birth in Harrogate in 1848.(Knaresborough Registration district). Three mother's maiden name are noted for births Atkinson (1846), Johnson (1848) and Nowell (1849).
answered by R W G2G6 Pilot (257k points)
Just to be pedantic, James was actually born in Huddersfield in 1846-7. It was his elder brother Ben who was born in Harrogate. Regardless, I tried the same approach on the GRO index and couldn't find a mother's name of Sinclair or anything close.

Edit: Oops, you're right. I was trusting the transcription on familysearch. James was indeed born in Harrogate from the image.

Ben (8) was born in Holcombe Rogus, Devon. Maybe this is a line to attack. Or Joe Robert (9) born in Halifax.
Thanks Ron. I will definitely follow up your Huddersfield suggestion.
+1 vote

I can think of two other possibilities to consider:

Perhaps Sinclair was her married name ie her marriage to Johnson was a second marriage.

I have had cases where the mother gave her mother's maiden name instead of her own.  I can only imagine that the registrar may have asked the mother: "Mother's maiden name ? "  and she took it to mean "your mother's maiden name ?" rather than the child's.

answered by Joe Farler G2G6 Mach 4 (49.4k points)
You're absolutely right the "mother's maiden name" might be her married name in a previous (or later) marriage, or even the grandmother's maiden name.  Often I find I can get round this kind of thing (if I know names and dates of siblings) by looking for all birth registrations with the right child's name in the right time period and area, rather than searching on mother's maiden name; even with a common name, this can pin down the right family by comparing the lists of mother's maiden names for John Smith in 1880, Tom Smith in 1882 and Mary Smith in 1884 and seeing if there's one that turns up in all three lists.

Unfortunately, looking at the list of children in the Huddersfield family, I'm not seeing birth registrations with the right names, places and dates that yield the same mother's maiden name.  Joe Robert was probably born in Holcombe Rogus, Devon, which is in Wellington district.  I can't see any possible birth registrations anywhere in the country for him as Joseph Robert or similar, within 2 years of 1843, or as Joseph (without a middle name) in Wellington in that period.  There are plenty of Benjamins in the right period born in the wrong place, but I'm not seeing any registered in Huddersfield, or Harrogate (Knaresborough district).  (And no Bens at all).  Unfortunately the older children were born before civil registration so can't be used as clues.  The closest thing I'm seeing to overlap in maiden names would be if James' birthplace was given wrongly and was (as R W suggested) Harrogate not Huddersfield - and the mother's maiden name was Johnson - and Ben was born not in Yorkshire at all but in Liverpool.  Rather far-fetched.  

So it seems to me almost certain that this was one of those families that didn't register their children's births, unfortunately.

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