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Census Pitfalls

1. Age/Date Problems

1841 Census - ages of people over 15 were usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years.

Ages in all censuses may be subject to error:

  • Indexes may show incorrect dates because of transcription errors
  • There may be accidental misrecording of ages
  • People may simply have lied about their ages - amending them upwards or downwards.
  • Sometimes ages have been obliterated by other marks, or completely omitted.

2. Addresses

Addresses in censuses may appear to include house numbers. Be careful not to read too much into these. In the earlier censuses they don't represent a particular house in the way that modern house numbers do. They are often just a sequential number applied by the census taker (the enumerator), and in the next census the same property may be given a different number.

3. Missing People - missing census

Another census pitfall for the unwary is that the census records we have access to are not complete. Some records which were taken at the time are no longer in existence. Some streets or parts of streets were simply missed by the enumerator.

4. Marriages

A woman may be described as 'wife' in a census and yet no marriage record comes to light in the BMD indexes. This may mean that the couple were, in fact, not married but simply living together. On the other hand, there may be an error in the marriage indexes, or the index may be incomplete.

You may have difficulty finding a woman because she has been widowed and remarried between two censuses. If she had children from her first marriage this may help you identify her, though bear in mind that such children may have taken the second husband's surname!

On this site, a date of 'before xxxx' or 'after xxxx' has been used to enable a relationship to be displayed in the appropriate time period of the couple's lives. If there is no BMD reference or marriage certificate given as source then the marriage is only an assumption.

5. Children

Bear in mind that children shown in census records are not necessarily all the children that have been born into a family. Children may have been born and died within the ten years between two censuses, and so not show unless other sources are checked. Sometimes a child doesn't appear with their parents because they are living with another relative.

6. Relationships

People are sometimes shown as 'visitor', 'lodger' or 'boarder' when they are in fact related. I've found it very helpful to record the whole household when noting census information; being able to look at all the censuses for a family has often revealed a lodger or visitor to be a widowed parent, married sister, or other relative.