The censuses can baffle people beginning family history, when they first encounter them. You go on to a commercial site and pay to download the image of your long lost ancestors and you are presented with an official form covered in sometimes difficult to read handwriting and what looks like lots of lines crossing out some of the data.
Lets start at the top!
The Header contains the Location. That is broken down into sub sections, for example: the administrative county; the civil parish, etc. Boundaries were constantly changing and although it may appear that your ancestor has moved between the census, it could just have been a change in administrative division that had taken place. Also beware of house number changes or street name changes. I had one in my tree where 2 Densham Terrace, was 80 North Road and is now 199 North West Road, Plymouth!
The column on the far left of the document is the Schedule Number and NOT the house number! With the exception of the 1911 census, what we are looking at, when we download a census, is a page from the Enumerator’s book. The far left column, then, lists the number of the original schedule filled in by the head of the household. These schedules are not available any more with the exception of the 1911, which is why you can get to see the handwriting of the person that filled it in!
Beware that ancestors can vary their names across census! My Great Aunt Winnie appears as Eveline Winnifred and Winnifred Eveline on different census. A middle name may make an appearance after the death of a mother and if someone was know by a pet name, like one of my grandmothers, then this may be put down instead of her actual name. One more thing, north of the border it was usual for Scottish widows to revert to their maiden names.
We all like to exaggerate a bit and so did our ancestors. A carpenter may become a Cabinet Maker or a merchant seaman a master mariner. Another thing to think about is where your ancestor had two or more jobs. Which went down on the schedule?
Place of Birth.
This could change depending on your ancestor actually knowing it. But also consider when a county changed its name or its boundaries moved, your ancestor’s place of birth has just changed.
If Deaf and Dumb; Blind, Lunatic, Imbecile or Feeble Minded.
Don’t fear the worst as this covers a variety of medical conditions with little option for degree of ailment. The options offered are a bit stark to the modern politically correct twenty-first century dweller.
As you scroll down the page you will notice someone has inserted two parallel lines next to the names of some people. What does this mean? This indicates where the next household starts. So between the first // and the second all those names are considered to be part of the same household.
So, the downloadable census collections are a great tool for the family historian, providing us with fantastic insight into our departed family, but the information has the ability to confuse as well as to inform.