Blog - Building Beginnings

Counting folk

Family historians are very familiar with the national census introduced by the Victorians to count how many people there were in the country every ten years. Recording households as units including each person’s relationship to the head of that household is a goldmine for reconstructing families and discovering unknown relations. Add to that finding each person’s age, marital status, place of birth and occupation, and you are in genealogical heaven.

Shropshire farmer and his family

But they didn’t count the dog

The census is also pretty handy for house historians, for if you can identify your property – and it is sometimes a big if – then you can metaphorically open the door and interview the occupiers. Or at least you can ask yourself the questions you would have liked to ask them. Where did you come from? How long have you lived here? What made you move here? Who lived here before you? Planning to stay long? And so on. The census itself can answer some of these questions, and of course there are many other records available that may fill in the gaps if the family aren’t keen to be discovered.

The demographical information from the census is also fascinating, not just for an individual house, but the neighbouring community. What kind of people lived here? What were their occupations? Who had servants? Who were the servants? And so on.

House and family historians alike generally prefer their quarry to stay in one place but of course people were often on the move: in search of work, to a larger or smaller home to accommodate a growing or shrinking family, to be near relations, or just for a change of scene. While family historians are on their trail across parish, county or country, we house historians have merely to sit by the front door waiting for the next lot to arrive and start interviewing again. Where did you come from? Etc.

It does make for tricky research when people moved house every other year as no sooner have you been introduced to them all than they are off and the carter is standing by with the next lot of furniture to move in. But thanks to the census and ancillary records I’ll be on their trail.

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