Why Can't I find my ancestors on the Census returns ?

ëWarwick Info   ëTREPESS Info
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 not answered
  • 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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