When was William Freer born?

I’ve been tracing as much as I can about my great great grandfather since I started my research around thirty years ago. William Freer was listed on his daughter Clara’s birth certificate in 1869 as a dog feeder of all things. Of course, it doesn’t tell you much about his age and so a process of digging up old records, guess work and deduction began.

Birth certificates only came into being after 1837 – before then there was no official record – following the 1836 Births and Deaths Registration Act. The most you could hope for was a christening date that also mentioned the birth date.

The first source I started was with his death in 1887. His gravestone states he was 56 and died on 17th February – this means he must have been born on after 16th February 1830 but it could have been as late as 17th February 1831 if he had died on his 56th birthday.

photo of monumental grave inscription
Burial 1887. Ruabon, Denbighshire. William Freer

The next port of call were the census records. In 1871, when Clara was only one year old, he reported himself as 40. Most censuses were held on the first Sunday night of April, so we can work out the earliest date of his birth assuming those records are accurate. So, from 1871, we know he was born after 2nd April 1830 but before 1st April 1831. By combining with these with the range from his death we can narrow to between 2nd April 1830 to 17th February 1831.

Repeating this for all the censuses we can narrow just a bit more to between 7th April 1830 to 16th February 1831. His age was consistently reported as 20, 30, 40 & 50 for the years 1851 through 1881. It gets more interesting (a little!) in the 1841 census.

Census 1841. Barrow Gate, Quorndon, Leicestershire. John Freer household.

The first full census in 1841 recorded the age of people over 15 years rounded down to the nearest five years. So a 19 year old would be recorded as 15 – quite irritating from a research point of view. Those 15 and under would be recorded in actual whole years. So William is listed as 10, and as confirmation that the enumerator did this correctly – his elder sister Ann was recorded as thirteen and his younger sister Emma as six. We can therefore be confident he was ten (and not erroneously round down from between 10-14).

As the 1841 census was taken on 6th June 1841, we get lucky and can further narrow down his birth date by a couple of months to between 7th June 1830 to 17th February 1831.

Some years later I happened across his baptism. These were often several months after the birth in those days (unless the baby was very poorly) but we at least now know he must have been born on or before that date – taking another 5 months off the range; now 7th June 1830 to 12th September 1830.

Baptism of William Freer (parents John and Frances) 12 Sep 1830

Baptisms in the Parish of Quorndon

There are a couple of documents that contradict all this. The first, and most frustrating, is his death certificate. The informant (his daughter Helen) reported his age in 1887 as 51, not 56. It’s not a handwriting error as it’s very clear. We can only assume that she didn’t know his exact age and that perhaps her mother was too distraught to be part of that discussion.

Death 1887. Ruabon, Denbighshire. William Freer

The second is his marriage certificate in December 1849 which noted he was of ‘full’ age – meaning he was at least 21. Those under 21 required permission from their parents and the bride appears to have done so as she is listed as ‘under’ age. John Freer was a witness to the wedding so again this just seems to be a strange unexplained anomaly. If William was 21 then he would have been born before 5 Dec 1828!

Marriage 1849. Leicester, All Saints. William Freer & Mary Ann Elliott

So the latest range we now have is that William Freer was born between 7th June 1830 and 12th September 1830. I’m not anticipating any further progress on this one, sadly.

By Paul Blacknell

I’ve been researching my genealogy since 1988 when I started interviewing my eldest relatives. Although my primary focus has leant towards the Blacknells (and spelling variants), I've also uncovered many Quigleys, Freers & Colhouns. So far my family history can be traced back to 1730 in Calverton, Nottinghamshire.

One reply on “When was William Freer born?”

Well – what do you know? It turns out an old family bible held by Stephen Ashford has been uncovered (Stephen is my 3rd cousin descended from William’s son George.

I’m waiting for the chance to get a high resolution scan but it shows a William Freer born 18 June 1830.

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