Back to basics

Back to basics – using the key genealogy records to discover your ancestors

Doris Mary Nash



I have fond memories of my nan, Doris. I will never forget her, a wonderful person who was always around when my sister and I were growing up. Someone you could talk to, who would give you an honest opinion. What can the documents that chart her life and some of the family stories that have survived tell us of Doris?

This blog also takes the reader back to basics, the techniques we should all start with in charting our ancestors lives. Whether you are a seasoned family historian, or a ‘newbie’ this blog is for you.


Dris Mary Nash, Robert Parker, Rachel Parker

Doris Mary Nash circa 1971

Marriage indexes and certificates

The place to start your family history is your grandparents marriage certificate. Marriage certificates identify the date of their marriage, where they lived, ages, grandfathers occupation, address of nan before married plus names and occupations of both fathers. From the bride and grooms ages find their birth certificates (including where they were born and their parents occupations). And so your research moves back in time, through the generations.



So what of the marriage of Doris? The certificate reveals Doris married John Edward Hatton on valentines day, 14 February 1931 at the Church of the Ascension, Blackheath 1. This is something the marriage index alone doesn’t reveal – so always confirm your research with the source document whenever possible. Using the details from the index on I was able to order their marriage certificate from the General Register Office 2:

Marriages March 1931 (registered Jan/Feb/Mar 1931)

Nash, Doris M Hatton, Lewisham, volume 1d, page 1195.

The certificate includes amongst other details:

John Edward HATTON aged 36, bachelor, insurance agent (father John Hatton) and Doris Mary NASH, aged 25, spinster (father Edward William NASH, police inspector retired). The witnesses were Doris’s parents Mary Elizabeth and Edward William NASH 3.

Doris kept a copy of her certificate of banns, recorded as being read at the Parish Church of S Peter, Brockley and the Parish Church of the Ascension, Blackheath on the 18th May 1930 and across the following two weeks. The reason for the delay in the marriage was given in another document.

Doris Nash & John Hatton 1931

Doris Nash wedding 14 Feb 1931

A letter

Doris describes how she met her future husband in a letter to her daughter.

John Edward HATTON (Charlie Harry) had worked at Elliott’s also, but had left before I started. Went into Insurance buying. I became friendly with Maud who was later my bridesmaid. Used to go to dances/whist drives at liberal club – we were not liberals though. I was introduced to Charlie Harry (JE Hatton) there and was told he had no family and was a poor sole. Needless to say I hated him on sight but felt sorry after hearing his sad story. He went to Aunty Robinson’s boarding house, had a room under where Rhoda’s grandmother hired… I took CH home and my mother didn’t like him so eventually I was told not to bring him home… We decided to get married, but CH was taken ill with a duodenal ulcer in the street. We were advised to wait a year. I took him to an aunt of mine who lived near Southampton and he said he had a sister in Isle of Wight, Ryde. He wrote to her and said he wanted to introduce me, took the ferry, she was out for the day. Found out later he used to take all his girlfriends there – so I got the cold shoulder! By this time I must have been about 24 or so, decided to marry and we had three rooms in a large house in Tywitt Road, 2 basement (damp) and a bedroom. We moved in and I entertained my mother/father to bury the hatchet! After 5 months I became pregnant, felt ill and miscarried at the 7th month. Our son was still born, on CH birthday, May 6th a bitter blow to him. I then had ‘pustule’? fever, after a year recovered. We moved from TR to Belmont Grove and you were born. From there we went to Horncastle Road when you were just walking. I hope all this scribble will be of some help, but please no more past history 4.

The final sentence is revealing as I remember my nan never liked to speak of her family history. Unfortunately whilst she was alive, I wasn’t interested in finding out about my ancestors. I’d love to travel back in time…

The wedding present from her husband was a set of crystal, and from another a small, round table (hand made) which survive in the family.


Second child

Having started with my nan’s marriage certificate, and finding her age at marriage I am able to search for her birth. The marriage certificate records her age as 25 in 1931, so a simple subtraction provides a birth year of circa 1906. Bear in mind your ancestors weren’t always honest in the details they provided at marriage, so widen your search in terms of the years you enter for the search. Checking the indexes on-line I find one Doris Mary Nash, born Brentford in 1905:

Births December 1905 (registered Oct/Nov/Dec 1905)

Nash, Doris M, Brentford, volume 3a, page 89.

I need the birth certificate to confirm I have the right person. If you complete this search yourself you’ll notice a Doris Mary E Nash, born Linton in the same quarter 5. There is nothing to suggest this isn’t my nan (apart from the extra initial E). However once I have the birth certificate I can match the name of the person, their year of birth (subtracted from the date of the marriage), their fathers name and occupation and decide if I have the correct person.

My nan Doris Mary NASH (known as “Doll or Dolly” in the family) was born on 24 November 1905 in Middlesex 6. She joined her brother William, born 1904 (see Talk ‘Searching for William – Liverpool – Oz – Lewes). She described her name as fashionable at the time of her birth, perhaps recognising that for her grandchildren this was an uncommon name for children of our day.

In 1911 Doris is listed on the UK census (taken on the night of the 2 April) at 177 Murray Road, Ealing, Brentford, Middlesex, United Kingdom 7. She is with her family Edward William NASH (father), police sergeant, Mary Ann Elizabeth NASH (known as “Polly” in the family; mother), and William George NASH (brother). The 1911 census is important for genealogists as the household return has been retained. It therefore shows the handwriting of your ancestors (something you may not have seen before). The so called ‘Fertility questions’ are also revealing, and in the case of Edward and Mary they reveal the marriage had lasted for 7 years to date, with three children born alive, two children still living and one child who had died.

Doris did speak of her sister, Irene NASH who was born sometime between 1905 and 1915. A little, blond girl who would peep from under her hands when saying grace. Her father was very fond of her. Irene died at two or three years of measles and pneumonia 8. I haven’t been able to trace a death certificate for Irene.


UK Birth indexes and Census

Birth indexes are online or at your local library or register office (for that county). They are also available from pay per view websites, or Remember, always purchase the certificate relating to the index entry as there just isn’t enough information available from the index to confirm this is your ancestor. Certificates are available from the Registrar General ( or your local Register Office. If you purchase them from subscription websites you will likely pay more.

The census is perhaps the most important source for research in conjunction with BMD records. Following the introduction of civil registration in 1837 the UK Government wanted more detailed information on the population. The census provides a snap shot of a family on a particular night and shows whole family groupings. Although the UK Census started in 1801, being published every 10 years, it only details a headcount through to 1831, so 1841 is the first useful census. Currently all census’s are published through to 1911 (as they are closed for 100 years for privacy). The Census can be found on-line 9, at The National Archives in Kew, London 10. Those relating to your area will be at your local record office 11 or library 12. They can also be found at a Family History Centre for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) 13. Finally many Family History Societies have produced indexes to local censuses 14.


Family stories

Further details emerged for Doris via family stories and letters/documents.

A Pitman’s shorthand certificate survives detailing a pass in Pitman’s shorthand at the rate of sixty words per minute 15. Pitman’s short hand (after Englishman Sir Isaac Pitman) was first presented in 1837. A phonetic system it is the most popular form of shorthand in the United Kingdom today 16. Certificates for handwriting and scripture knowledge dated 1921 & 1922 also survive, from the London Chamber of Commerce and London County Council. This made me chuckle as Doris hated her untidy handwriting. I loved it, as to me it was beautiful copperplate handwriting.

Doris M Nash Scripture Certificate

Doris M Nash Scripture Certificate circa 1920

Documents provide us with insights into our ancestors lives, their skills and abilities and perhaps evidence to back up other documentary proof. Some of the documents we have for our ancestors won’t survive in archives, so look after them well. Consider purchasing archive quality storage 17.

Doris worked for 8 ½ years at ‘Elliott’s’, Lewisham (Elliott Brothers) having started at 17 years of age. She painted the faces of clocks for cars and described her hatred for the job, earning £2 a week. Elliott Brothers moved from central London to the century Works, Connington Road, Lewisham in 1900. The company produced electrical, surveying, drawing, marine, meteorological, car and other instruments employing 200-300 people. In 1917 it became Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd. The buildings no longer exist having been taken over by the Tesco supermarket car park, flats and the Docklands Light Railway 18. Images of ‘clocks made for cars’ survive on the Internet.

On the 27 April 1947 Eddie 19, Doris’s youngest brother, told her that her mother had died, she was cleaning out the fire grate at the time.

Following the raising of her two daughters, in 1971 she joined Horn Park School, London SE12 as a school helper 20.

Stories can reveal priceless information about our ancestors that won’t be found within documents in the archives. Record your family stories for posterity and look after them well. Consider passing them onto a relative so they reach the next generation.



Doris passed away on the 13 February 2001 at the age of 95 in Lewisham Hospital, London. Her grave in Hither Green Cemetery, London records her and her parents:

In loving memory of Mary Elizabeth Nash a loving wife and mother who died 27 April 1947 aged 72 years, at rest. Also Edward William Nash beloved husband of the above died 17 Nov 1969 aged 93 years and beloved daughter Doris Mary Nash 24 Nov 1905 – 13 Feb 2001 21.

In memory of Doris we met at 11.30 am in Greenwich Park, London on the 26 November 2001 22. The park was deserted apart from a couple of people walking their dogs. My wife and I had picked up my Mum and Dad earlier. My sister had arrived with with two close family friends. My aunt was already there and a representative from Doris’s sheltered housing arrived a little later.

We made our way along the main avenue towards the statue of General Wolfe and the tea house, having met one of the Parks ground staff. The Chestnut trees (having just seriously started shedding their leaves) were bathed in gold, the ground thick with leaves, that wonderful autumn ‘smell’ in the air. The sunshine, bright and fresh adding a feeling of warmth but the fresh air reminding us it was the end of November.

Leaving the path onto the grass which was muddy, but cushioned by leaves so it didn’t dirty our shoes we followed our guide. We made our way to a lonely sweet Chestnut, dwarfed by the mature trees surrounding it. A mound of freshly dug earth waiting for the spade; which in turn was waiting for us. Mum sprinkled some earth from the family grave into the freshly dug ground and we each placed a spade of earth onto the base of the tree, each buried in our private thoughts. In one direction the Royal Observatory, in another the bandstand. One place our nan loved and was really happy. We took a careful note of the location, the eleventh tree down the second row by the tea house. We captured some photographs as a record of the day 23.


Greenwich Park Tree

Greenwich Park 2014

Death certificates and cemeteries

Death certificates provide (among other things)


place and cause of death

age of deceased

name of informant

You will be able to see if ancestor died of a common disease (in their era) or by accident or other circumstances. Obtaining a death certificate is the same process as obtaining other certificates. Narrow down the period you research by using the census. If your ancestor appears on one, but not the other they may have died in the intervening period. Otherwise search from the last known time they were alive to an age impossible to obtain. Note down all options from the indexes and then decide the most likely (remember from from 1866 – 1969 the age at death is recorded in the index). After 1969 the date of birth is given.

Municipal Cemeteries were formed due to parish churchyards becoming overcrowded. The first opened in Norwich in 1819, followed by Manchester, London, Liverpool. initially these were private enterprises, until legislation in the 1850’s established local municipal burial authorities. The information regarding your ancestors you may find recorded includes:


date of burial (sometimes also date of death)




location of grave (sometimes name of undertaker)

Remember family members may be buried together in one plot, although the gravestone may not record this – burial books (held by the cemetery) may reveal further details.



Doris’s story isn’t particularly incredible. It isn’t filled with great adventures; although raising two small children during World War Two, in London I’m sure was harrowing at times. But it is a story of an individual, growing up and raising a family in the 20th Century. A person who saw incredible change during their lifetime. It is in part the story of our society and of the normal person (if there is such a thing?). Above all it is the story of my nan.

I will never forget my nan and with some official documents and family stories she will live on in our family and in our hearts.

Doris Mary Nash


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, coaching, talks, and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories could your ancestors tell?


Next months blog: AE Parker, b. March 1899


3 Source: Marriage Certificate, 14.2.1931, Lewisham, London, Paper photocopy

4Source: Letter to daughter V Hatton, 21 July 19??


7Source:, or, or

8 Source V Hatton, April 2006, or, or, or





15Source: Pitman’s certificate, Phonetic Institute, Bath, Alfred Pitman, Ernest Pitman (examiners). 21 December 1921, taught by B.M. Yate.


17One supplier is


19See: for Eddie’s story

20Source: Doris Mary Nash

21 Grave T205, Hither Green Cemetery, London, UK

23Source: Email, Robert Parker to Aunt, 26 November 2001