Digging into the past

Great grandmother
There is so much bad feeling on the internet right now that I am staying away from it!

Since my year with Find My Past has recently expired I am now exploring the UK Gov Census to see if it is any better or more accurate. I am happy to believe that our grandparents were not so hot on reading and writing, and that generations before them were almost illiterate, but I was unprepared for the variation in ages quoted for the same family member on each census. Some people quoted figures that varied by seven or eight years.

That got me thinking that if you didn't have a diary or an equivalent to hand, then how did you record such vital facts? You would have to rely on memory, or else pin the event to an important year. "The year the king died," or "the year Titanic went down." Even then people would remember and argue about the year. "It was 1912", says one. "No, it was 1914, just before the war broke out," says another.

Newspapers would have to be consulted, and to do that a trip to the nearest library that held archives would be necessary. Mostly, given the difficulty of travelling into town, they would give it their best guess when the enumerators came around every ten years. Hence the variation. I did notice that most ladies guessed their ages to be younger than they were!

Then there are the people who did the clerical stuff. Some of the names are spelled most imaginiatively. Towns are usually correctly labeled, but villages and hamlets have many variations. It was surprising how many men changed their profession during a lifetime. Agricultural labourer to colliery engine driver. Butcher to registrar of births, marriages and deaths. Obviously, they followed the work that was to be had, for their addresses changed as often as the jobs. Some followed a gradual upward trend, and others did the opposite. The unfortunate few ended their days in the poor house, or living with a family not their own - and labelled "pauper" on the census return.

Fascinating stuff. I just wish they hadDi begun doing the census earlier that 1841.


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