Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What does the 1871 census tell us about the family?

What does a census return tell you?

What good is it in doing family history?

The census return is one of the best family history records

I am going to dwell on the 1871 census return for one particular family for a while, to see what information can be coaxed out of it.

With all the resources available on the Internet, not to mention in libraries and in the research others may have done, there is no reason to be too hasty! Of course we all like to get on with the chase and find more ancestors, but it's also important to stop and think about them.

For one thing, this respects them as people and not just names on a page. (In a hundred years, which would you rather be?)

Also, by studying at least a little bit of the context in which our ancestors lived, we can often come up with clues about who, what, where, when, and that marvellous question: Why?

The address of the home in the 1871 census of England and Wales

You would think it would be easy to figure out the family's address if you have been lucky enough to locate them by name in the census returns. In England, and especially in London, I find it rather confusing!

The John VERNELL #2 family is a great example.

Lucky for us, the address is legible. They often aren't. Here it's 23 Fenwick Row, written in the space to the left of the name of the head of the household. But Fenwick Row where?

Up at the top of the census form there are eight different boxes to identify a location:

- Civil Parish (or Township)
- City or Municipal Borough
- Municipal Ward
- Parliamentary Borough
- Town
- Village or Hamlet, etc.
- Local Board (or Improvement Commissioners' District)
- Ecclesiastical District.

Some of these are mutually exclusive. For example, you don't expect a place to be both a town and a village at the same time. (But never rule these things out! Maybe we should have a contest for the first person to find a census return where are eight things are filled out with no repetition.)

In the John VERNELL #2 case, there is no mention in any of the eight boxes of "London", yet that is where we would think this family lived, especially those of us who don't live in the UK and aren't familiar with the twisty, turny, plate of spaghetti that London is and was.

What the census form shows for the VERNELLs is:

- Civil Parish (or Township): St Giles
- City or Municipal Borough: Camberwell
- Municipal Ward: No 6 Ward
- Parliamentary Borough: Lambeth
- Town: (blank)
- Village or Hamlet, etc.: (blank)
- Local Board (or Improvement Commissioners' District): East Dulwich
- Ecclesiastical District: St John [in] the East.

How can you find out where exactly the ancestors lived if you know the address?

That's the next question. I think it's time to talk about a few great resources: maps and reference books.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Take advantage of spelling mistakes and transcription errors in family history research

You may already have come across some spelling mistakes in your own research. Keep track of them.

Spelling and transcription errors happen all the time in family history research

For example, when I did my search for John VERNELL and his wife Eleanor Anne in the 1871 census, here is the transcription of the entry I found for them.

John Vernell Good.

Spouse: Eleana A Instead of Eleanor A, the person who transcribed the page put Eleana A. Transcription errors are extremely common! It's no wonder. The handwriting on the digitized version of the original is often hard to read. I will not keep a particular note of "Eleana" being a common mistranscription of "Eleanor" because the first five letters are the same, and a search for Eleanor Anne VERNELL will also pull up Eleana. However, if this were a surname, or if the mistake was a little more bizarre, I would make a note of it, and use the mistaken spelling if I get stuck in a search in future.

Birth: abt 1845 - Whitiebapel, Middlesex, England This is referring to John's birth, and is calculated by subtracting the age John gave on the census from the year of the census, 1871. This is a more precise estimate than I had before. I started out with "about 1844" based on John being under age (under 21) when he and Eleanor Anne got married in 1864. I simply guessed that he was around 20 then. Now we have a better estimate of his birth year, 1845.

Did you notice that his place of birth is shown as "Whitiebapel"? This is a fairly obvious and easily spotted mistranscription of "Whitechapel".

Residence: 1871 - East Dulwich, Camberwell St Giles, Surrey, England The census transcript doesn't give the house and street, nor does it show the occupations of the people, and their marital status. But you can get that by looking at a copy of the original handwritten census return, which is just one click away on I always look at the original, first because there are so many errors in the various transcriptions (and I don't blame the transcribers for that! Many of them are volunteers doing their best under less than ideal circumstances sometimes.) Another reason to look at the original is to see if another interesting person lives close by. It's always worth skimming the whole page just in case.

The first book I've included below has no picture, just a link.
Reading Old Handwriting (Guides for Family Historians)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sign in to to search UK records more easily

This is just a little trick to make searching with a little easier.

Because I'm in Canada, actually signs me in to unless I type in to get the UK site instead.

It's more convenient to be signed into when you're searching UK records, because otherwise a lot of searches will give Canadian records only, or Canadian records first.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Preparing to search in the 1871 census of England using

Just in case you're wondering, I am an ordinary paying customer of They don't know me, I don't know them.

I use other genealogy products but because fits so many of my needs, they are my current favourite.

Back to my search for John VERNELL #1. Right now, I am showing you how I found out there ever was such a person.

Get ready to start searching the census

One of the most wonderful things we have these days is easy access to census data. It was really not long ago (starting around 1992) that I would go to the PRO, first on Chancery Lane and then to the new building at Kew, and look at reels of microfilmed census returns. I hate microfilm! Even microfiche makes me dizzy. So, I'm very thankful for being able to get census returns at the press of a button.

Is it really as easy as that? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Looking for John VERNELL and his wife Eleanor Anne in the 1871 census of England

From their marriage certificate, I know that on 5 July 1864, John VERNELL (the one I call John VERNELL #2) married Eleanor Anne CAMPBELL at the Parish Church in the Parish of Hackney. Both were under age. Usually a marriage certificate will give you either "of full age" or an exact age. This is the only one I've come across in my own research where both parties are under age, though I am not suggesting it's particularly rare.

In this case, although I cannot point to the statute or another legal authority setting the "full age" at 21, I am fairly sure that in 1864, that's what it was.

I can estimate that John and Eleanor Anne were born in approximately 1844, based on a guess that they were about 20 when they married. That means in the 1871 census, I will be looking for people who are no older than 27. However, it is best to be a little loose with the dates at first, and cast the net more broadly. That is experience talking!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Looking for children when you know something about the parents: John VERNELL #1

My story of the VERNELL family is an ongoing example of how to do family history research.

Typically in family history, it's easiest to work backwards from the present to the past. That's because we usually know something about how things are today, and from that we can start to put together the pieces and figure out how they were last year, last century, and so on.

However, the principle is really to work from the known to the less known.

In genealogy research, start with what you know

Eleanor Ann(e) CAMPBELL married John VERNELL on July 5, 1864. I wrote a little about this yesterday, "Building a person's life story from".

I know that Eleanor Ann(e) had children with John, because it is part of the family history that's been passed down to me. We can't always trust those stories 100% but at the very least, they give us a starting point.

The information you have helps you decide what genealogical records to search for and where

I have now got several fairly reliable known pieces of information:
- the wedding date and place
- the names of the bride, groom, and their respective fathers,and the witnesses
- the occupations of the groom and the two fathers, and
- the addresses and ages of the bride and groom.

I am going to check the census return for the first census after the wedding. If I find this couple, with any luck I will also find some or all of their children living with them and listed as a family in the census. The census is a good choice of record to look at now. I could go on a fishing expedition looking for children in the indexes of births, or the baptism records, but the thing is, I don't yet know for sure how many children John and Eleanor Anne had, and I don't know their names, apart from John's.

(In fact I am sort of cheating. I actually found out about John's existence by looking at the census, and now I am going back to explain my search steps.)

Next: Looking for John VERNELL and his wife Eleanor Anne, nee CAMPBELL, in the 1871 census of England.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Building a person's life story from John VERNELL #1

One of the fascinating things of doing family history research is tracing people through the years using online searches.

We used to have to do all this by post or by hiring researchers to help us, unless of course we live where all the records are kept. Now thanks to the LDS Church, many volunteers and organizations, and services like, we can do much searching online at home.

I use and have found it satisfies many of my needs, but I go outside it when I can, or when I have the opportunity.

So, here's how online searches helped me piece together what I know of the life of John VERNELL #1.

How to get started in genealogy? Start with what you know.

I knew from family stories that Eleanor Ann(e) CAMPBELL had married a man named VERNELL and his half-brother, whose surname was SANDERS, and that they lived in London, England. I am still unravelling the connections between these two families.

A good place to start building the records for someone is with the marriage of their parents.

I actually did the search for this marriage by hand in the old GRO records room at St Katherine's House in London. It wasn't too hard to find the marriage entry for Eleanor Ann(e) and John. That's John VERNELL #2, the father of John VERNELL #1. Finding the marriage of his parents gave me a starting point for this family.

The marriage was on July 5, 1864 at the Parish Church in Hackney, which is part of London.

Here is a short history of Hackney, courtesy of the Hackney Council's website.

In fact, the actual marriage certificate is online now via and the London Metropolitan Archives. I'm not sure which Ancestry links will actually work for people who aren't members, but here's a link to the marriage certificate.

What it tells me about the not-yet-born John VERNELL #1 is that:
- his parents were young and hadn't been married before
- his mother was from Lewisham, Kent, where her father, James CAMPBELL, was a Cooper
- his father, a Salesman, was from Albion Road (presumably in the Parish of Hackney, London), and his father, John VERNELL #2, was a Silk Manufacturer.

The stage is set for John #1's arrival!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

John VERNELL #1 and Queen Victoria's timeline

John VERNELL #1 was born in 1866.

The Reign of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria had already been on the throne since 1837, 29 years, when John VERNELL #1 was born. She remained the Queen of England and Empire until her death in 1901. From John's birth until he was 35, this petite and famously prudish lady was the only queen he knew.

Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887, and the Diamond Jubilee in 1897, were big public events. John VERNELL was living in and around London then, and probably got as caught up in the excitement of these celebrations as everyone else.

For more information, see the BBC website: History: Historic Figures, "Victoria" (author and date not shown)

The post before this one was about John VERNELL #1 and his wife Mary Ann in the 1901 English census.

The VERNELL story starts with the Silk Manufacturers in Spitalfields.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

John VERNELL #1, of London and area, Solicitor's clerk, ~1866 to 1908

In the quest to sort out the John VERNELL's, I've named them John VERNELL #1 through #4. The most recent is #1, the oldest (so far) is #4. There is one in each generation of the VERNELL family.

The 1901 Census

In 1901, John VERNELL and his wife Mary Ann lived at 71 Ranelagh Road, East Ham, Essex. According to the census, he was a 35-year-old Solicitor's Clerk, and she his wife.

Mary Ann, who are you?

The GRO Marriage Index has a John VERNELL marrying Mary Ann CHAUNDY in the last quarter of 1897. But, no Mary Ann CHAUNDYs have come tumbling out of the birth index nor any of the censuses from 1871 to 1891. Although the 1901 census says she was born in Bloomsbury, Middlesex, the greater concentration of CHAUNDYs seems to be in Oxfordshire.

John and Mary Ann refuse to be found, John in 1891 census, and Mary Ann at all!

I may need to get the marriage certificate for this couple if I want to track Mary Ann back before 1897. But John in 1891? Probably a mistranscription, and I may never find him.

In the meantime, let's have a look at 71 Ranelagh Road, East Ham.

Here's a link to a nice little map of the community of East Ham, mentioning some of the history (Anne BOLEYN included), and some of the local points of interest. It's on a website called

The VERNELL family history story so far starts here:

Family History Stories: Ancestors: The VERNELLs were silk manufacturers in Spitalfields in the early 1800s

The most recent part was here:

Family History Stories: Sorting out the various John VERNELLs

Up next: John VERNELL #1 and Queen Victoria's timeline.

Clickable map of 71 Ranelagh Road, East Ham, in 2010 (Google Maps)

View Larger Map

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sorting out the various John VERNELLs

Ancestors who use the same name generation after generation are both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because the repetition of the name sometimes helps you feel secure when guessing whether you have the right John SMITH (or in my case, John VERNELL).  A curse because after a few generations you have so many John VERNELLs that your eyes begin to cross.

Here's where I am with my own John VERNELLs today.

Starting with the most recent.

John VERNELL #1, born about 1866 in New Cross, Surrey, England, died some time after the 1901 census.  He was the first child of John VERNELL #2 and Eleanor Anne (Ann) CAMPBELL.  He married a lady named Mary Ann and in 1901 he was working as a solicitor's clerk.  John #1 probably lived in London and in Essex as far as I now know.

John VERNELL #2, father of John VERNELL #1, was born in 1844 in Whitechapel, a part of London most closely associated with Jack the Ripper these days.  This John was only 30 when he died, but he and Eleanor Anne had seven children.  John was a tea salesman.

John VERNELL #3, father of John VERNELL #2, was born in 1816 in Tower Hamlets (London).  He was a Silk Manufacturer, and died in 1845 in Whitechapel.  His wife, Maria SANDERS, was born SANDERS, married John VERNELL, then after his death, married William Lumley SANDERS.  This tendency of SANDERS and VERNELLs to intermarry is driving me crazy but it also makes the stories a little more intriguing.

John VERNELL #4, father of John VERNELL #3, 1789 (about) to 1873.  I think he and his wife, Hetty Mary TWINAM, sometimes called Hester or Esther, had about seven children.  (I'm still counting.)  If I understand correctly, John was a silk manufacturer who retired to Thames Ditton in the 1840s with his wife and several of the unmarried adult children.  This family lived in High House, Thames Ditton, through the 19th century and probably into the 20th.  If I am ever going to find a family fortune (!), this seems like the best place to start looking.

In my family tree, I am still sorting out Johns #1 through #4 and at the moment I have some facts showing for the wrong individuals.

The story before this:

Family History Stories: Ancestors: The VERNELLs were silk manufacturers in Spitalfields in the early 1800s

and the story after:

Family History Stories: John VERNELL #1, of London and area, Solicitor's clerk, ~1866 to 1908

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ancestors: The VERNELLs were silk manufacturers in Spitalfields in the early 1800s

One of the more distant branches of my family was named VERNELL.  This is a family that has intrigued me (as most of them do) for a couple of reasons.

One of them, possibly one of the several John VERNELLs, was killed by lightning on his own front door.

One family, headed by another John VERNELL, were silk manufacturers in Spitalfields in the early 1800s.  They later retired to Thames Ditton.  I just found out their house was purchased by one of England's notable car manufacturers, A C Cars, makers of the Cobra.

The house was called High House, and now I know why I have never seen it when looking around Thames Ditton:  it was torn down.

Much more to come about the VERNELLs.  They're quite a fascinating clan.

Next: Sorting out the various John VERNELLs