Conflicting evidence

John Samuel Vernon was variously born in England, Ireland and Scotland if the British censuses in which he is recorded are to be believed.[1] It is clearly not possible for all these to be true. Estimates of his birth year based on those same records range from 1816 to 1821. What is the truth?

With the exception of the 1841 census, the census data indicates John was born circa 1817-1819 (see Table 1). In the 1841 census the enumerator was instructed to round down to the nearest 5 years, ages of those over 15.[2] Using the recorded age in 1841 and allowing for the “round down” rule, John was born between 1816 and 1821.

He died on 22 April 1872—his age recorded then as 53 years implying a birth year circa 1818–1819.[3]

Extract from the 1872 death certificate of John Vernon

Generally genealogists place more credibility on official records of birth, marriage and death than they do on census records. With census records, it is not possible to know who provided the information or how accurate it is. The accuracy of death records depends on the informant and what they knew. If the informant was not a family member, as was the case when John died, then that information is definitely likely to be unreliable. In short, the accuracy of all the records available for John is suspect.

Table 1. Address, Occupation, Age and Place of Birth Recorded for John Samuel Vernon.

Source Document Address Occupation Age Place of Birth
1841 Census of Scotland[4] 7 Wallace St., Gorbals, Lanarkshire, Scotland P. Layer Railway 20 “E” (England)
1845 Inverness Parish Register (marriage)[5] Parish of Inverness Labourer
1851 Census of England[6] Beswick Gate House, Beswick, Yorkshire, England Rail Lab. (Plate layer) 33 Scotland
1861 Census of England[7] Stakes Road, Preston, Yorkshire, England Platelayer on Railway 42 Ireland
1871 Census of England[8] North End, Ottringham, Yorkshire, England Railway Plate Layer 52 Scotland
1872 Death Certificate[9] Ottringham, Yorkshire, England Railway Platelayer 53

Where was John born?

Based on the information available, John was born before civil registration commenced in England (1837), Scotland (1855) or Ireland (1864) so, unfortunately, he will not appear in any civil records of birth which would have given a date and place of birth. Also, neither Scottish church records of marriage nor English death certificates record a place of birth.[10]

A search of parish registers across England, Scotland and Ireland, covering the years 1815 to 1822, proved negative.[11] Though extensive, the search (as detailed below) was definitely not comprehensive, however, access to other registers was not available.

  • English parish registers – all available on Ancestry (, Findmypast (, TheGenealogist (, MyHeritage ( and FreeReg (
  • Scotland, church registers on ScotlandsPeople – all surviving registers of the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church and dissenting Presbyterian churches which were outside the Church of Scotland but re-joined the Church of Scotland in the 19th or 20th centuries (
  • Irish parish registers – all available on IrishGenealogy (
  • All indexes to parish registers from Great Britain available on FamilySearch (

The family of Thomas and Jane Vernon

In the 1841 census, the Vernon “family” was living at 7 Wallace Street, Gorbals, Lanarkshire, Scotland.[12] In 1851 the family, excepting John who was already married, are recorded in the census at Huret Street, St Anne—on Alderney, one of the islands comprising the Channel Islands.[13]

Table 2. Comparison of 1841 and 1851 Census Information for the Family of Thomas and Jane Vernon.

Name and Surname of each Person Relation to Head of Family Condition Age Rank, Profession, or Occupation Where Born
  1851 1851 1841 1851 1841 1851 1841 1851
Thomas Vernon Head Mar 45 59 P.L. Railway Chelsea Pensioner England
Jane Vernon Wife Mar 45 57 Scotland
John Vernon[14] 20 P. Layer Railway E
George Vernon Son U 20 30 P. Layer Railway Lab. at the Brk Water E England
Thomas Vernon Son U 15 28 P. Layer Railway Lab. at the Brk Water E England
Joseph Vernon Son U 13 23 P. Layer Railway Lab. at the Brk Water E England
Jane Vernon 9 E
Samuel Vernon Son U 6 16 Lab. at the Brk Water E England
Hannah T Vernon Daur. 4mo 10 Scholar Y[15] Scotland

The males in the Vernon family who had been railway platelayers in Scotland in 1841 are recorded in 1851 as labourers at the breakwater in the Channel Islands. The father, Thomas, is the exception. He is now listed as being a Chelsea Pensioner.

1851 census, Alderney – Thomas Vernon and family

Chelsea Pension records for Thomas note that he signed on with the 2nd (or Royal N.B.) Regiment of Dragoons at Manchester, England on 23 March 1811 at the age of nineteen for unlimited service.[16] He served until 25 June 1828 when he was discharged at Dublin “in consequence of Deafness of long standing which renders him unfit for his Majesties service”.[17] Thomas’ service in the army, 1811–1828, covers the period during which records for his son, John, indicate he was born (1816–1821).

An 1840’s history of the 2nd or Royal North British Dragoons (commonly called the Scots Greys) indicates that, “in June 1817 the regiment marched from Canterbury to Scotland, where it remained 12 months and proceeded to Ireland in July 1818.”[18] And later, … “The regiment remained in Ireland until the early part of May 1821, when it embarked for England.”[19]

Whilst in Scotland, on 11 September 1817, Thomas Vernon, “soldier 2 DG at Piershill”,[20] married Janet Waugh daughter of George Waugh late of the Army.[21]

Based on the records of the movement of the 2nd Dragoons, Thomas was in Ireland when John was born. Was John born in Ireland or did his mother remain in Scotland when the army left?[22] In fact, the records for army births and baptisms are available from 1761 onwards at the General Register Office in England.[23] The birth and baptism records for the 2nd (or R.N.B.) Regiment of Dragoons note the birth and baptism of the son of Serjeant Thomas Vernon and his wife Jane—John Sam’l [sic] Vernon, at Londonderry, born 24 September 1818, and baptised on 11 October 1818.[24]

Extract from the 1818 birth certificate of John Samuel Vernon – 2nd Regiment of Dragoons


To determine when and where John Samuel Vernon was born records for him which explicitly state age and place of birth were consulted. However, these resulted in conflicting information with conflicting places of birth and no definitive date or even a definitive year of birth. Searches for a baptism in available parish registers in England, Scotland and Ireland proved negative.

Research into John’s parents and siblings uncovered new leads. His father’s career in the army and the tracking of where his regiment had been stationed led to the unexpected discovery of an official army birth record for John in Londonderry, Ireland on 24 September 1818—many years before such records were kept for the general population in England, Scotland or Ireland.

Only the 1871 census for John provided correct information for both age and place of birth showing just how sceptical we need to be, especially for ancestors who are very mobile!


[1] John Vernon was recorded in the 1841 census of Scotland which was conducted on 6 June 1841; the 1851 census of England on 30 March 1851; the 1861 census of England on 7 April 1861; and the 1871 census of England on 2 April 1871.

[2] The instructions to enumerators regarding age were: “Write the age of every person under 15 years of age as it is stated to you. For persons aged 15 years and upwards, write the lowest of the term of 5 years within which the age is.” Examples were given for age ranges from 15-20 years up to 70-75 years. (An extract of text from the preliminary pages to the 1841 census of Edlaston, Derbyshire, England, TheGenealogist ( : accessed 3 March 2019); citing Public Record Office HO 107/181.)

[3] England, death certificate for John Vernon, died 22 April 1872; citing 9d/166, Patrington registration district; General Register Office, Southport. The informant for the death certificate was Eliza North (not a family member).

[4] 1841 census of Scotland, Lanarkshire, Gorbals, ED 23, pp.1-2 (stamped), household Thos. [sic] Vernon; digital image, ScotlandsPeople ( : accessed 15 August 2010); citing 644/02 023/02 001.

[5] Inverness Parish, Inverness County, Register of Banns and Marriages, 18 July 1845, entry for John Varnan [sic] and Christian Mackenzie; digital image, ScotlandsPeople ( : accessed 3 March 2019).

[6] 1851 census of England, Yorkshire, Beswick, folio 696 (stamped), p.16, household 56, lines 13-17, John Vernon; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 4 July 2011); citing Public Record Office HO 107/2359.

[7] 1861 census of England, Preston, Yorkshire, folio 54 (stamped), p.17, household 86, lines 5-12, John Vernon; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 4 July 2011); citing Public Record Office RG 9/3579.

[8] 1871 census of England, Yorkshire, Ottringham, folio 82 (stamped), p.27, household 117, lines 10-17, John Sl. Vernon; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 4 July 2011); citing Public Record Office RG 10/4798.

[9] England, death certificate, John Vernon, died 22 April 1872, citing 9d/166, Patrington registration district.

[10] Many Australian certificates do record a place of birth on both the marriage and death certificates, so an Australian genealogist unfamiliar with English and Scottish records may have expected to find it here.

[11] The search included variant surnames for Vernon – Vernan and Vernor – as these had been noted in other records for the family. In each case, the search was for a son, John, of Thomas (or Thos.) and mother (if mentioned) of Jane or the variant, Janet. In Scottish baptismal records, the maiden name of the mother may also be included. If so, then it should be “Waugh”.

[12] 1841 census of Scotland, Lanarkshire, Gorbals, pp.1-2 (stamped), household Thos. [sic] Vernon. The word “family” is used here though the 1841 Scotland census did not record relationships between members of the household. However, all the people in this household share the same surname and the births of the children are such as would suggest they are children of the two older members of the household.

[13] 1851 census of Channel Islands, Alderney, folio 465 (stamped), p. 20, household 83, lines 12-19, Thos. [sic] Vernon; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 12 November 2007); citing Public Record Office HO 107/2531.

[14] By 1851 John Vernon and his wife Christian were living at the Beswick Gate House, Beswick in Yorkshire, England.

[15] A “Y” response to this question in the 1841 Scotland census indicates Hannah was born in the county where she was recorded in that census i.e. born in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

[16] Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Soldier Service Records, 1760-1920, Thomas Vernon; digital image, Findmypast ( : accessed 3 July 2011); citing The National Archives, Kew WO97.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Historical Record of the Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons: Now the Second or Royal North British Dragoons, Commonly Called The Scots Greys, Containing an Account of the Formation of the Regiment in the Reign of King Charles II and of Its Subsequent Services to 1839 (London: Longman, Orme, and Co., Paternoster Row, 1840), 108.

[19] Ibid, 109.

[20] “2 DG” is an abbreviated description for the 2nd Dragoon Guards. The Historical Record of the Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons notes, on page 109, that the regiment was stationed at Piershill in 1817.

[21] Edinburgh Parish, Midlothian County, Register of Banns and Marriages, 11 September 1817, entry for Thos. [sic] Vernor [sic] and Janet Waugh; digital image, ScotlandsPeople ( : accessed 19 July 2011).

[22] Some army wives travelled with the army. Whether John was born in Ireland or not depends whether Jane Vernon went to Ireland with the 2nd Dragoons or not. She may have remained in Scotland when the army headed to Ireland.

[23] Indexes to the regimental birth, marriage and death registers are available on TheGenealogist ( and Findmypast (; they are not currently available on Ancestry or MyHeritage. The index gives a name, a place, year, regiment and the reference numbers necessary to order the certificate from the General Register Office.

[24] Londonderry, birth certificate for John Sam’l [sic] Vernon, born 24 September 1818; citing 261/31, Regimental Births 2nd Dgns; General Register Office, Southport.