Finding your ancestors in the 1901 and 1911 censuses

Eneclann genealogists Elizabeth Cuddy and Helen Moss explain some of their ‘insider secrets’ for getting the most information about an ancestor from the 1901 and 1911 censuses.

• The 1911 Census will tell you the number of years a woman was married, the number of children born living to that date, and the number of children still living. These facts can help with searching for civil birth, marriage and death records in the GRO by indicating approximate dates and potential family members you may have missed.

• Form B1 on the Census will tell you the type of building that your ancestors resided in. Take a note of the house number on the top right hand corner of Form A (the household return); this corresponds to the house number on Form B1, which will tell you the number of outhouses, what the roof and walls of the house were made of, the number of windows to the front of the house, the number of rooms occupied by the family, and whether the residence was shared by other families. Using the house number again, Form B2 will tell you the type of outhouses the family had e.g. cow house, barn, piggery, turf house etc. This is a great way to get a picture of how your ancestors lived.

• When searching the online Census, take into consideration all surname variants as widespread illiteracy made consistency and exactness of spelling extremely rare. Should there be many name variants for your ancestor, it would be possible to enter the first name, and other search criteria (such as age/address etc) and then sort the results alphabetically in order to try identify your ancestor.

• Along with the standard search fields on the online census, there is also the ‘More Search Options’ button at the top of the search form which allows you to further filter your search. But please remember to remove these additional search items when conducting your next search!

• Ages for your ancestors on the 1901 and 1911 Census returns will assist with focussing a search for their birth/baptismal records as you can compare the ages listed in the two returns.

• Remember that the census forms were distributed well before the actual night of the census so that some individuals filled them in advance of the actual date. Consequently, where we might expect to find a couple married they are still recorded in the census forms as single in separate households.

• Does your ancestor seem to have aged between the 1901 and 1911 census? There may be a reason for this. The Old Age Pension was introduced in 1908, and some people increased their age a little in order to qualify. Also, in a time when birthdays were less significant, people may not have kept track of their exact age. Finally, if your ancestor was illiterate, maybe someone else may have completed the form for them and put in an incorrect age?


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