Unravelling inconsistencies without benefit of certificates

Certain inconsistencies appear in the records viewed for two brothers who are commemorated on Petersham’s War Memorial and whose graves are in the Churchyard, almost within sight of their home, Parkgate.  One died at home of influenza in the closing weeks of the war and the other in the aftermath of war.  Without ordering certificates, a costly option for a project with a zero budget, what can we do to resolve some of these inconsistencies and confirm which pieces of information provided by the family are likely to be reliable?.

The parents of these men were the actor Henry Farren, and his wife, Mary Farren.  But when did they marry?  Did they marry?  And was Henry a member of the Farren acting ‘dynasty’?

And who was Mary?  There is a marriage between a Henry Farren and a Mary Ann Scotland in Lambeth in 1882, but without sight of actual certificates, one cannot say whether these are this couple.  Her name is given as Mary in all the census returns we are able to associate with her..

There are several inconsistencies in the documents relating to Montague.  His birth was registered in Strood, Kent in the fourth quarter of 1887 and his parish of birth was identified as Gravesend in the 1911 census, and also when he enlisted in the Army in December 1915.  His age was given as 3 in the 1891 census, which would match a birth in August 1887 and this entry reassures us that he was not a subsequent child, given this particular combination of names, perhaps following the death of a sibling.


Fast forward to 1 October 1896 when Montague transfers from Oldfield Road Infants’ in Stoke Newington to Oldfield Road School, when his date of birth was given as 31 August 1888, and his father’s name as Montague Farren of 83 Park Lane.  Is this another Montague Farren, and if so, why doesn’t he show up in the censuses of 1891 or 1901?


When Montague was eventually baptised, at St Faith’s, Stoke Newington, on 28 August 1897, his date of birth was recorded as 27 August 1887.  If this date of birth is correct, then he was baptised the day after his tenth birthday, and one can imagine the family realising Oops, Montague hasn’t been christened, and heading for the parish church at the earliest opportunity to remedy that omission.

The age calculated for Montague on 9 December 1915, when he enlisted, was 25 years and 4 months.  The four months will almost fit a birth in late August, but for him to be 25, he would have to have been born in 1890.  In this case, perhaps the calculation was made from his date of birth, and he was not inclined or competent to correct it, if he noticed it when he signed the form.  Nor could he have been 27 on 3 March 1919, as indicated in the Burial Register for St Peter’s on 11 March 1919. In the latter instance, this information is likely to have been provided by his mother, whose own vagueness with regard to her age, may indeed turn out not to have been rooted in vanity.


Only once does ‘Ann’ appear as part of Mary’s name and that is by the War Office in the directive re the recipient of Gerald’s medals, when she is identified as Mrs Mary Anne (sic) Farren (of Parkgate, etc).  She signed letters as Mary Farren, and the handwriting on the 1911 census form matches her handwriting in the letters she sent to the War Office and to Wharnecliffe Hospital. Her sons, when identifying her in documents always gave her name as Mary.

Census returns are not helpful.  Mary Farren appears with her sons’ father in the 1891 census aged 36, born in York, Yorkshire, information which is likely to have been provided by Henry Farren. Twenty years later she is a widow, aged a mere 51, responsible for filling in her own form, and giving her birthplace as N.K. [Not Known]!

When might they have married?  Mary helpfully indicated that she had been married 25 years, but if Henry has indeed died between 1891 and 1911—and as yet we don’t know when—then we’re unable to establish when they might have married.  If 25 years is accurate, and we have to make assumptions, we could look for a marriage occurring in the year preceding, or even following, their son’s birth.  Robert Hindson T Farren, gave his date of birth as 25 February 1883 when applying for US citizenship, as well as on what is likely to have been his Draft Registration. (This matches the registration of his birth in 2Q 1883, Gravesend as six weeks were allowed for registration of a birth and a birth towards the end of February might well not be registered until April.)  That marriage in the third quarter of 1882 between a Henry Farren and a Mary Ann Scotland might fit, but even if this is our Mary Farren, was her maiden name really Scotland and why is a woman who is clearly educated, and able to write fluently and persuasively, not able to say where she was born, even to the nearest large town or the county or region?


Certificates aside, I followed up her surviving sons, Robert and James, and two grandsons from Robert’s first marriage as well as two from James’s marriage.  Robert had emigrated to North America before the war, and registered for the draft on 12 September 1918, at which point his younger brothers were still alive.  He married  Caroline Clara Rosanna Parfrey in 1906 and  had by her two sons, Robert James Hindson Farren (born 1907) and Eric Montague Parfrey Farren (1908–1973).  Robert was living with his grandmother at Parkgate in 1911, but joined his father to the United States in 1912.   At the time of the 1920 US Census, in which hs is recorded as Robert John,  he was living in Detroit with his father and a “Marie L Farren”.  Robert (senior) appears again in US records in the 1930s, with a third ‘wife’ Betty O. Farren.  No search has been made for records for marriages to Marie L, or Betty O. because this War Memorial project has zero budget, and there are other men and women to research and commemorate.

James, who had also emigrated before the war, returned to the UK where he enlisted with the  ‘Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force,’ giving Parkgate as his address in the UK.  His attestation is dated 29 April 1918, at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire.  He was within a month of his 37th birthday.  He was a farmer in Mervin, Saskatchewan, Canada in the most recent record found for him.  On one of his visits to the UK, in the 1920s, he was accompanied by his wife, Doris and two sons, John (b. c1930) and Gerald (b. c.1933).  Search engine results for Farrens associated with Mervin, turn up several in British Columbia, who could be followed up.

It is interesting to see, in the names given to their nephews, the fraternal loyalty and affection of Gerald and Montague’s brothers.

What may be rather more significant to a researcher, is the incorporation of the surname Hindson into the next generation.  It is that surname, so strongly associated with England’s northernmost counties, that may provide a clue to one of the grandparents of Mary’s sons, or even to Mary’s maiden name, if she and Henry were not married.  Exley may also be a significant surname.


Order certificates!  Start with the birth certificate of one of the sons, perhaps the eldest, Robert, as this will also provide missing information on the name with initial T.  What is given as the mother’s maiden or former name?  If the surname is Scotland, order that Farren/Scotland marriage certificate.  If not, search for a marriage between Henry Farren and someone bearing that surname, starting three years before the birth of the eldest son, and continuing until the death of Henry Farren.

You might wish to order the birth registration for another child in order to establish ‘reliability’ or consistency.

Searching for a death certificate for Henry may be more difficult as Henry Farren is not uncommon as a name, but also because he may have died while performing elsewhere in the United Kingdom, which at that time still included Ireland.  Note, on the marriage certificate, the name and profession of his father.

To narrow down the time of his death, it might be worth contacting the archivist of the University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection, who may have information about Henry Farren or his father, should the marriage certificate confirm that he, too, was an actor.  As a relatively prosperous actor, a report of his death, or an obituary, may have appeared in the newspapers.