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|Proformat News ISSN 1833-9514|
In this issue:
with the censuses of England and Wales|
The Victorian censuses were undertaken at a time when up to half the adult population was at best semi-literate. Many householders would have found it difficult to read the instructions and this may have led to inaccurate or incomplete information. It seems that because of poor spelling and presentation, enumerators may have found it difficult to read some of their census schedules leading to transcription errors.
Reading the Census Enumerators’ Books
The 1841 records were completed in pencil and cheap ink was often used to complete the later censuses and thus they can be difficult to read, notwithstanding the problems with some handwriting.
In towns, few houses were numbered until the end of the nineteenth century, and in some places street names and house numbers were subject to periodic revision. In rural areas addresses are often rather vague or not given at all.
Definition of a household
The instructions given to the enumerators on what constituted a household were vague. This has affected, in particular, how lodgers, boarders and different families renting rooms in the same houses have been enumerated. In some instances families of lodgers appear to have been treated as occupiers in their own right. On other occasions families co-residing at the same address have been treated as lodgers.
It should be noted that the spelling of surnames only gradually became standardised after 1837 with the introduction of civil registration. When attempting to link households and families across censuses this can create problems: Elisons of Eydon’s Yard, in 1881, became the Alisons of Aydon’s Yard by 1891.
Problems can arise in identifying stepchildren, the parents of grandchildren, and relationships among lodgers, boarders and visitors.
While marital status does not usually pose problems, it is rarely possible to identify second marriages. Cases of cohabitation have usually to be inferred from relationships such as servant, lodger and visitor.
Many did not know their correct ages, and for older people age-data should be treated with caution. At a time when the age of consent was 21, householders below this age often had an incentive to falsify their ages in order to rent accommodation and enter into legally-binding contracts. Similarly the ages of child workers appear on occasion to have been falsified to circumvent the various factory ages. Charles Shaw born in Tunstall in 1832 is shown as an eleven-year old potter in the 1841 census.
Job titles can be vague with little or no information given on either the industry of employment or the actual job undertaken. A cutter might be a glass cutter, a file cutter, etc. It is often difficult to distinguish between dealers and makers (did a baker bake or sell bread?). Although people were asked to say how many people they employed it is often difficult to distinguish employers from the self-employed and employees.Problems exist in using occupational data for women and children. It is believed that the occupations of many women and especially of those in part-time work and/or working at home, were not recorded in the census. It would also seem that the occupations of children were often under-enumerated.
It is thought that about 15% of recorded birth places are wrong, but in half these cases the discrepancies tended to be insignificant.
This area is the least accurate as the question was poorly worded and the replies given are often of little use. Many householders appear to have been reluctant to admit that a member of their family was an idiot and when this description was changed to feeble-minded in 1901 the numbers recorded as mentally ill rose markedly.
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