Mar 292012

I’m delighted to reply to a reader’s question this week.

Miranda writes:

I can’t find the death of an ancestor. Peter Hardy (born approx 1805) who married Sarah Winter in 1833. On the 1841 census they are living in Beverley, East Yorkshire with their son William. By the 1851 census Sarah is a widowed pauper and head of the family, still in Beverley. Their youngest child was christened in November 1848 so I have assumed that he must have died between 1848-51 and I have searched the death certificate registers online but have not found him. Any other ideas?

I suspect that this is a situation we have all faced, which is why I wanted to share my reply on the blog.


Dear Miranda,

There are lots of possibilities, I hope you find the following ideas helpful.


Consider an alternative source for the GRO indexes

You haven’t specified where online you searched. My first port of call for GRO indexes is FreeBMD, but if I can’t find what I’m looking for there, I turn to findmypast. GRO indexes are also available on The Genealogist. It is always worth looking at alternative sources, where possible, as mistakes happen, the same applies to censuses.

In this case, a search on FreeBMD finds only one Peter Hardy death registered in Yorkshire during the time period, in Stockton, however a search on Findmypast finds a death for another Peter Hardy in the June 1850 quarter in York.

Returning to FreeBMD and searching for deaths of “Peter” in York for that quarter reveals the York record transcribed as “HARD_ Peter”. The Findmypast image is better than the FreeBMD one, so I can see how this has happened – be warned if you are searching for Hardy deaths in 1850!

If you haven’t seen this entry before, you may wish to return to the census and birth records, to establish whether there are any other likely candidates for this death.


Widen the Search

  • did the death occur earlier or later than you thought?
Although the youngest child was christened in Nov 1848, the birth may have been significantly earlier. A look at the census for 1851 shows the child aged 3, nevertheless the father could have died before the birth, possibly the child isn’t even his!
  • was Sarah telling the truth when she described herself as a widow? Is there any evidence that Peter was alive and well elsewhere in 1851 or later?
  • the death will be registered where he died, did the family move around or could he have died away from home? Whilst the registration district of Beverley is where you would look first, consider deaths elsewhere in the county and beyond.
A search on Family Search (which includes the IGI) for children of Peter Hardy and Sarah, indicates that at least three of their children were christened in different churches, including one in Hull.
  • could the death have been registered under another name, an alternative spelling,  mis-spelt, or mis-transcribed? Consider searching for common mis-spellings or using wildcards to search, e.g. a search on FreeBMD for Peter Hard* picks up the York entry mentioned above along with some entries for Peter Hardie.
  • Sometimes in the process of compiling the GRO indexes, entries were mistranscribed or ommitted altogether. Consider applying to the local register office for the certificate as they hold the original registers. Some local registers can be searched online at UKBMD.
Some York registers are available to search on UKBMD and a search finds the June 1850 death mentioned above and tells us that the death was registered in the sub-district of Walmgate


Locate an alternative source for the death

If you can locate the death in other records, this may help you identify the registration of the death in the indexes

  • search for the burial
    • start with the parish registers for the churches where his children were christened and in parishes where they were listed in the census
    • consider local cemetery records,
    • useful finding aids might be the National Burial Index, Deceased Online, published transcripts of Monumental Inscriptions, Parish Register transcripts
  • wills – even if you think it unlikely that he left a will it might be worth checking. Prior to 1868 wills can be tricky to locate! The Borthwick Institute in York is the place to start, alternatively you may find something online in the National Wills Index.
  • newspapers, inquests, court records – search for references to the death in the British Newspaper Archive and in the catalogue of the country Record Office, in this case East Riding Record Office.
  • check poor law records – as Sarah is described as a pauper in 1851 perhaps the family appear in the poor law records following the death, they may even have received help with the funeral expenses, again these are usually found in the county record office.


When all else fails…

consider the possibility that the death was not registered!

Although the registration of deaths is thought to be more complete than births, it is certain that some went unregistered, especially in the early days.

I really hope you are successful in your search, let me know how you get on.

Best wishes



If anyone else has any tips, or information on Peter Hardy, please leave a comment below.


If you have found this post interesting, you may also like:

Killing Off My Ancestors – Part 1: Cemetery Records

Killing Off My Ancestors – Part 2: Newspapers

Killing Off My Ancestors – Part 3: Death Certificates


You may wish to subscribe to The Genealogy Workshop.


If you enjoyed this, please consider leaving a comment or consider subscribing to The Genealogy Workshop to receive future posts in your feed reader or by email.

Comments close two weeks after posting but you can still get in touch via the contact page.

NOTE TO SPAMMERS: Please don't bother as it wastes my time and yours. I moderate all comments and spam will not get published.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.