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.

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