Tuesday, 4 May 2021

The census rabbit hole!

A few weeks ago I had disappeared down a map-rabbit-hole. This weekend past, I disappeared down the census rabbit-hole. Find My Past had free online access to the census data up to 1911 census over the bank holiday weekend. You needed to register (free) but then could start building a family tree. Clicking on various 'hints' took you to more census data that you could then add to your tree.

In the past, someone had done my father's family tree, going back a few generations. After burrowing around in the census data over the weekend, it became quite clear that the information at the very top of the tree was wrong!

According to the paper copy I had (done a long time ago), my granny's father was called William John and he had siblings called Isabella, Francis and Albert. His father was called John and originated from Ireland. Now, we know that Dad's family did come from Ireland at about that time, so this all seemed fine.

Over the weekend, I found William John on the census data for 1911, living with his wife and daughter (my granny). I might have found him as a lodger in 1901, but I can't trace him back any further than that. But, the paper copy had siblings listed, so I searched for data with those names too.

I found in the 1891 census a family with those children listed on my paper copy, except William had changed name to William Joseph. The birth year was correct, though, as was the surname. Perhaps it was a mistake in transcription? I kept looking. I found the family again in 1901. And again in 1911. Unfortunately, in 1911, William Joseph was still living at home with his brothers, not living with his wife and my granny! The perils of having a common family name and even more common first names!

What in some ways was more interesting was not going back generations and generations, but looking at the changes only a couple of generations back. I knew that my great-uncle had lived with an Aunt Diana rather than at home (because the house was full). Looking at the census data it seems as if the aunt had a home full of waifs and strays! She had no children of her own, but there were plenty of nieces, nephews, step-children etc. listed in her census data over the years. One of them I cannot find anywhere else in the census data. I don't know whose child he was without access to the birth register. He pops up in 1901, 8 years old, living with Aunt Diana and I can find no other certain trace of him just looking at census data.

Another woman who caught my eye - Jessie - was actually the wife of a direct family member - Thomas Fleet. He had three children with Jessie and then died when the children were still young. Jessie remarried and acquired two step-children. I couldn't find one of her original children whose father was Thomas. He was only 9 in 1881 but he reappeared, living with his mother 10 years later, so he hadn't died. It turned out he was one of the waifs and strays that had washed up with Aunt Diana!

I don't know what happened with Jessie. She had three children with Thomas, four children with her second husband and also acquired two step-children from that marriage, but in 1911, she's listed as a widow and a boarder in another house. Could none of the nine children have taken her in?

Of course, none of this is helping me to write any books, but I do find it fascinating. The free access ended at 10 am on Monday, which is probably a good thing as I would still be browsing all of it!

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