One very important tool in your genealogical research is the census; however, they can also be problematic. When researching your lineage it is important to establish when and where a specific relative lived, which is one way the census is helpful. Yet, you have to understand that these records were compiled by other human beings and are not always error free.

Front page of the 2011 census form.

Front page of the 2011 census form. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pros:

United Kingdom census results, particularly those dated 1841 and later are very valuable tools in that they were the first to list all members of a household. Previous census would only list the name of the head of the household, ignoring children, spouses and other relatives that might live under the same roof.

Census data is often considered the foundation of genealogical research and depending upon the era in which it was taken can contain a great deal of information. Let’s say you have traced the movements of a particular ancestor and you are pretty sure where they lived, but you cannot find property records to support your conclusions. A census of the area could tell you where they lived  and even where they were born (if this is missing from your research).

Cons:

Many census data was often copied several times for different organizations, which increases the margin of potential error. At the end of the day, a fallible human being was the enumerator and there are bound to be a few mistakes.

What You Should Know

When it comes to researching census data you will want to become familiar with the manner in which they were taken and the meaning behind certain abbreviations. For example, in the 1841 UK census professions would be abbreviated, some examples include:

  • Ag Lab- agricultural laborer
  • FS- Female servant
  • Sh- shopman
  • M- Manufacturer
  • m- maker (boots etc…)

Conclusion

A census can be very important to your research, filling in the blanks and even helping you locate a particular ancestor who seems to have fallen off the map. That being said you have to be aware of their limitations and propensity for mistakes or errors. Utilizing census data is not difficult but may require a little reading between the lines, so to speak. As of 2012 the UK census data is complete and searchable from 1841-1911.

 

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Filed under: Starting Your Family History

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