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Pitfalls of the Census Records

Here is some information that may assist you in your search for ancestors. The first national census of England, Wales and Scotland was taken in the year 1801 and there’s been a census every ten years since then (with the exception of 1941 when the country’s mind was on different matters). Ireland was covered from 1821 (but don’t get too excited – the Irish returns for 1821 to 1891 have not survived). It wasn’t until 1841 that the census became a truly useful tool for family historians. The 1841 census lacks the detail of its mid-to-late nineteenth century descendants but it’s still a vital source, including potentially crucial information about large numbers of people born in the middle of the previous century.

The classic Victorian census was born in 1851 when, for the first time, full genealogical details were recorded about the entire population of the country: names, ages, relationships, occupations and birthplaces are all there. The way our ancestors are bundled together in neatly packaged family groups makes it difficult for us to believe that the census wasn’t taken with us in mind!  However, you must always bear in mind that it was very easy for the information gathered to be incorrect, given the times many family secrets were just that, secret. So any illegitimate children for instance would not be named on the records or would sometimes be classed as grand child or nephew instead. The years of birth are a usual issue with the census records as they are an approximate, so when using a search tool to find a record don’t be too specific. Search the name and other possible spellings of both first name and surname, year of birth but search at least 1 year either way.

Now for location, did you know that the boundaries for Warwickshire have changed twice in the last century so the record may in fact come under a different county? However Solihull for instance used to come under Warwickshire until 1974 when the last boundary change took place and then it became part of Birmingham instead. Always check the address given on the census not the county shown on the search record.

I hope that this information leads you to your missing family links.

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