Parents Unknown

29 January, 2011 at 5:43 pm 3 comments

William Etherington, "parents unknown"

Parents unknown

If a death certificate has the dreaded word ‘Unknown’ – think about other ways of getting the information.

I was looking for the origins of William Etherington, a carpenter who died at Delegate (southern NSW). On his death certificate, not only were his parents listed as unknown, but so were any spouse or children.

Death certificates often have errors or missing information, because the owner of the property where a death occurred was the person required to register the death. The accuracy of their answers depended on who that was and how much did they know.

Next possibility – was there a will naming family members? If so, it might be found in a ‘Probate Packet’ – such files contain information about the property of the deceased and who was to inherit.

Checking the online indexes of NSW State Records (holders of New South Wales government archives), I found no entry for William in the Probate Packet index, nor the index of the Deceased Estate files (generally these contain an inventory of property and possessions).

However there was an entry for William Etherington in the index for Intestate Estates (‘intestate’ means died without leaving a will). The Curator of Intestate Estates determined who was to inherit when there was no will to indicate the wishes of the deceased.

The online index gave a clue that this file was working checking. The comments column included “contains original BDMs”. What an understatement!

William was one of 9 children, most of whom had married (and perhaps remarried) and had children of their own. William’s brother claimed that all his siblings and their descendants deserved to share the inheritance. In evidence there was a family tree (4 generations) along with all the applicable birth, marriage and death dates for everyone named. Not only that, but the file also contained all of the birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial certificates. Most documents were from England and the baptisms and burials were certified by the vicar.

Instant family! And photographing them all with my digital camera cost me nothing. (Fortunately I had a spare camera battery, as there were so many documents.)

I don’t think I have ever before found so many certificates in one file! However it was also a reminder that if the information is missing in the first place you seek, check elsewhere.

Family tree of William Etherington

Family of William Etherington


Entry filed under: Intestate, New South Wales, Research techniques. Tags: , .

Australia Day, past and present Multiple indexes are not all the same

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Judy Webster  |  30 January, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Wow, what a find! I’ve seen up to four certificates in files at Qld State Archives (Lands Department selection files and Supreme Court probate files and equity files), and also in a bundle associated with a deed of grant held at the Titles Office in Queensland… but I’ve never seen an actual *family tree*!

  • 2. Aillin  |  7 March, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Hi Kerry,
    I have nominated your blog for the ‘One Lovely Blog’ Award. 🙂

  • 3. Tony Annand  |  10 January, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    Hi Kerry, I just saw your blog after I googled “William Etherington” as he is listed as the undertaker for one of my “brick walls” at Delegate May 13th 1879…I can’t make out the dates on your extract above so not sure of your William’s vintage…would/could this be the same person/family??? Thanks for the heads up re: the index of intestate estates…that’s my next stop… regards, Tony


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