Why Can't I find my ancestors on the Census returns ?
All too often I get asked "I have searched the 18x1 census and can't find my rellies ....
I have found them on the one 10 years earlier and also 10 years later, yet not on this one
We have to use our genealogical thinking caps for this one - so to stimulate the grey matter
here is a list of some of the reasons I have come across over the years.
The family concerned wanted to hide from the authorities
There was an underlying distrust of the reasons for the census - was it to tax my family further ?
Are they looking for me for some reason ? Perhaps for conscription to the army.
Why should I reveal all the details about me and my family ?
I know, I will put down a totally fictitious family - the census taker will be too busy to worry about me
There was no-one in the house who could read or write
The census return was important, so the householder got the neighbour to fill it in
almost all the data was wrong, but couldn't be checked by the householder
Even those that could read and write may not know how to spell, especially place names
It's likely only one person filled in the form and (s)he may not know all the details.
The Landlord didn't know the real name of the guest
This may have been deliberate as in the first point or just that the landlord forgot
and the guest wasn't present when the form was completed
The householder mistook the census taker for a debtor
Worried that the family owed money - rent, water bill etc. the door was
The enumerator missed out a house or a whole court
Possibly he wanted to come back, but forgot, or didn't know there was a dwelling there
Some areas were rather rough or dangerous, and were missed out deliberately !
The enumerator didn't transcribe the entry properly
Perhaps a name got left out, while transcribing into the census book
Perhaps a sheet got lost or damaged before being entered into the book
Perhaps the writing was difficult to read, so got entered wrongly
A whole folio was missed out later when microfilming
Possibly the book got damaged, or it was just operator error
Perhaps the whole set was filed in the wrong place and got missed out
Then the transcriber may have missed out on people, families, schedules or pages.
Try asking a woman for her age and see what answer you get !
Don't rely on ages in the census - some may have been too vain, some may have wanted a pension
Some men may have wanted to avoid conscription or jury duty etc.
The writing was so bad or faint that it was transcribed wrongly
Just look at some of the census returns - many are very hard to read, and even those
that are neat, have some letters that are ambiguous.
The census originals have been annotated, and written over in coloured writing by the tally clerks
a B&W scan may just show a blob, or it may hide the writing, making it harder to read
The counties of birth were often guessed at, and were often wrong
The surname may not be listed at all
Institutions such as hospitals, lunatic asylums prisons, and workhouses may have used initials
instead of surnames to report their patients and inmates
The family may not have been at home at all
Some may have been in transit, neither sleeping in one place nor another that night
Some may have been abroad - perhaps in the process of emigration, but have returned
at a later date and been on a later census.
The family lived on a Canal Boat
Until 1861, canal boat occupants were listed only as number of M / F on board
If the boat was on the move, the papers may never have been received or returned
Children staying away from home
The householder may have assumed they were to be recorded on the parents return
The parents would have assumed they should be recorded on the householder's return
Gentlemen using the services of 'ladies of the night'
Perhaps neither party wanted anyone to know what they were up to (would you ? :-) )
In villages where everyone knew everyone-elses business
The census taker may have been the schoolteacher or churchwarden.
Any lies that people had been living would have to be stuck to !
The enumerator may have entered false information
There are tales of the transcriptions being deliberately entered incorrectly
Wendy reminded me of the case in Canada where all men's occupation was put as "Drunkard"
and all women registered as 'Whores' Such cases are obvious, but a single entry
for someone the enumerator didn't like would be all but un-traceable.
What to do next ?
The first thing is to imagine all the possible variations in the surname
Next check for odd forenames - these may bring up a family that was otherwise lost
Try searching for an address and looking at all in the road
Look for neighbours from previous or later census returns
Look for relatives - perhaps some or all of your family were out
Perhaps in another county visiting friends or relations
Perhaps they were on holiday or emigrating at the time, and returned to UK later
Look at the PRO Class lists for evidence of missing or misplaced folios
PPP will publish a list of known missing pages from Warks census returns soon.
Some people may never be found or turn up in the most unexpected places.
Remember a computer just makes the errors and omissions turn up faster !
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