Sorting out the ‘Johns and Marys’ in parish records

My x5 great grandfather Christopher was baptised in Sherborne Abbey, on the 2nd April 1722, son of ‘John and Mary Ridout’. Seeing two of the most common first names together is rather depressing for a family historian, particularly when there is more than one candidate couple living in the same town:

Sherborne Abbey marriages of, and baptisms to, ‘John & Mary’ Ridout

John and Mary MORRIS married on the 2nd Oct 1715
John and Mary SYMONDS married on the 1st Jan 1718/9

John 1 bp. 15 Oct 1716 (Mon)
Elizabeth bp. 14 Dec 1719 (Mon)
John 2 bp. 22 Jan 1719/20 (Fri)
Christopher bp. 2 Apr 1722 (Mon)
Robert bp. 24 May 1722 (Thu)
James bp. 16 Jun 1724 (Tue)

In this situation, we can use logic if we make some assumptions. Can we assume that: most baptisms were carried out not long after birth1 and, if so, that siblings were baptised at least a year apart2? Also, can we assume that the children were born in wedlock3 and belonged to just these two couples4? Accepting these caveats, I tried to work out which children belonged to which of the two couples…

  • John (1) is more likely to be the son of John & Mary (née Morris) as the other couple were not married for another three years.
  • Robert is unlikely to be Christopher’s brother since they are baptised just over a month apart.
  • By the same logic, Elizabeth is unlikely to be John 2’s sister, therefore one of these children belongs to John & Mary (née Morris) and the other to John & Mary (née Symonds) and therefore either Elizabeth or John 2 is Christopher’s sibling.
  • John 2 is unlikely to be the child of John & Mary (née Morris) unless their first son John died and the burial is missing from the parish register. If this is true Elizabeth is John 1’s sister and they belong to John and Mary (née Morris), having been born in wedlock. Since John & Mary (née Symonds) married in January 1719, John 2 was probably their first born son, baptised about a year after their marriage and Christopher was their second son.
  • My x6 great grandfather John, I think, died in 1726 and therefore James might have been his son or not but, in any event, John and Mary (née Symonds) were probably my x6 great grandparents.


  1. One exception might be, for example, when a group of siblings were baptised together, which often occurred at Christmas, or on a Sunday, when hard working families might have a day off. None of the baptisms here were on a Sunday or at Christmas.
  2. Assumes that a child was born shortly after birth and so a year leaves a very approximate interval between sibling births.
  3. Comparing my family’s marriage dates and the baptisms of their children I’ve only found a single illegitimate birth. Generally that does seem to be quite a common observation, as far as I know.
  4. Most of my early family were ‘hatched, matched and despatched’ actually in the town of Sherborne. Assuming that the registers are complete, and they do seem to be very meticulously kept, these two couples were probably the only ‘John & Mary Ridouts’ who married and were baptising children in Sherborne within this time frame.
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4 Responses to Sorting out the ‘Johns and Marys’ in parish records

  1. barrybrock says:

    Other family historians should read this – we will all learn something to our advantage.

  2. Prevaricat says:

    Barry, that’s very kind of you to say – but I could be wrong; at the end of the day many of these hypotheses will remain unproven, unfortunately. However, that won’t stop me from seeing if I can find anything more about my newly ‘discovered’ relative, John 2 😐

  3. Peter Ridout says:

    Interesting. Your Christopher and John came a long time after my Christopher and john. Are they related distantly?

  4. Prevaricat says:

    Distantly, yes. The Ridout yDNA project shows that my family’s common ancestor with your branch is most probably Thomas Ridout (bp. 1574). He and his wife Edith OLDISH had son William (your ancestor) and Thomas (mine). The yDNA results show that my cousin’s sequence is at least 2 steps different from yours, which computes to a common ancestor between about 8-12 generations back. Unfortunately for me, my family is not half as well documneted as yours and so remains ‘speculative,’

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