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I am trying to trace my great-great-great-grandfather Anthony HUNTLEY. I have a copy of the christening entry for his daughter, Elizabeth, dated 11th November 1821 at Sedgefield Church, Durham. It shows Anthony and Jane as the parents, and Anthony’s occupation is given as farmer, living in Sedgefield.

When Elizabeth married on 14th May 1843 her father is again shown as Anthony, a farmer (it does not show him as deceased). I can find an entry for Anthony and Jane on the 1841 and 1851 census returns, giving his year of birth as about 1789, which would seem credible. His place of birth is shown as Aycliffe, with Jane’s as Ferry Hill; both in the right geographical area. However, on both entries his occupation is shown as ‘lawyer’.

Is it possible for his occupation to have changed so dramatically, or am I chasing the wrong family? I can find no record of the family on the 1871 census but there is an entry for the death of an Anthony in 1872 in Auckland, Durham.


Vera Wall


Even without looking at the original census entries I was confident that I knew the answer to your problem, as it is one that I have come across again and again over the years. This is one of the most common misreadings of an occupation, whether on a census return or a birth, marriage or death certificate. Anthony HUNTLEY was not a ‘lawyer’ but a ‘sawyer’. The 1861 census, which you have not mentioned, gives Anthony HUNTLY’s (no ‘E’) place of birth as Shincliffe, Durham and his occupation as ‘woodman’. There is a possible entry for Anthony in the 1871 census of Escomb, Durham: he is a widower, living with his son, William, and his place of birth is shown as Preston le Skerne.

Preston le Skerne is only a mile or so north east of Aycliffe and is a township within the parish of Aycliffe. This would appear to be the most likely place of birth of your great-great-great-grandfather – Shincliffe is most probably an error.


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