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Q For more than ten years I have endeavoured to locate the birth or baptism of my great-grandfather, John (Henry) HOUGHTON. On his marriage certificate, John gives his father’s name as William and occupation as ‘waterman’. On the census, John repeatedly gives his place of birth as Northampton; his wife, Jane gives her place of birth as Pateley Bridge. There are discrepancies with the spelling of John’s name (HOTON, HAUGHTON, OUGHTON) and age (26 in 1881, 47 in 1891 and 58 in 1901). When he died in 1907, his age was stated to be 63. I know that John (Henry) HOUGHTON is my great-grandfather because Sarah Jane on the 1891 census is my grandmother.

Pauline Smith

A Unfortunately, you have not said what records you have searched. For example you have not mentioned any pre-1881 census research, or any investigation of the basic Civil Registration records of birth, marriage and death. The only real discrepancy with John’s date of birth is the 1881 census, all the other sources indicating a date of 1843 ±1. A basic search for a possible birth, 1842–1844, under the various surname spelling possibilities in Northampton Registration District, using the FreeBMD website ( produces a birth in the December Quarter 1842 of a John HOUGHTON – have you investigated this? At this early period of registration it is possible that John’s birth was not registered and so you would need to consider an investigation of the registers for the Northamptonshire parishes. If John’s father, William, was a waterman then there is the further complication that John may have been born on a canal somewhere other than Northampton, but always considered Northampton as his birth place (where the family actually lived) Or vice versa: he was born in Northampton but the family were only passing through, and therefore perhaps never bothered with the inconvenience of a birth registration. You should certainly make contact with The National Waterways Museum Stoke Bruerne (Stoke Bruerne, Towcester, Northamptonshire NN12 7SE; tel: 01604 862229; and possibly the National Waterways Museum Gloucester (Llanthony Warehouse, Gloucester Docks, Gloucester GL1 2EH; tel: 01452 318200;

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