Why I love the 1851 UK Census

Why I Love The 1851 Census: Despite having used 8 different censuses, the 6th census (1851) is my firm favourite – and here’s why…..

Whilst the 1940 US Census continues to cause a storm with genealogists across the Atlantic, I’ve fondly turned to my favourite UK census of them all – the good ol’ 1851.

A page from the 1851 Census.
The 1851 census builds bridges between data.

I’ve used 8 UK censuses in my research – 1841-1911 – and each one is different – adding or omitting different questions, but it’s the UK Census that took place on the night of the 30th March 1851 that’s my favourite. Here’s why…

Building data bridges

I use the 1851 census to verify information that I’ve picked up from the scant data of the 1841 census. This enables me to build bridges with data – following families from the 1841 census, through to the 1861 census.

The 1851 census also gives the opportunity to verify those people who were alive before 1837 when certification was introduced for births, deaths and marriages. Whilst the 1841 census captures a more of those people, it’s not much more than a head-count with poor spelling and some seriously unreliable ages.

More household detail

The 1851 census was the first to ask and record answers about relationships between household members. This piece is very useful – again helping me decipher the 1841 and pre-certification records.

The 1841 did ask whether people were born in the same county as that which they were being recorded in – so gave a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in the county box, but the 1851 census goes further by also recording the parish AND county of birth. It also records whether the person had a disability – namely blind or ‘deaf-and-dumb’.

The State Opening of The Great Exhibition in 1851
The Great Exhibition took place in 1851.

The 1851 census also asks for more detail about occupations – and it’s here that you can find some interesting insights into what your family members did, and it can give you an insight into where in the social classes they would have sat.

The 1851 census has been publicly available since 1912 as it was not covered by the 100 year retainer rule. I have no idea what the demand was like back in 1912 when it became available, but I doubt that it matched the US 1940 Census demand – which saw 37 million website hits overload the website within 8 hours.

Were people queuing up in the streets in 1912 to read the 1851 census? I’m guessing they probably weren’t.

Why not love the 1911 UK census?

Just for the record, the 1911 census is a close second – for the sentimental moment you see your ancestor’s handwriting, and the very useful ‘years married’, ‘number of children born’ and ‘number of children living’ data.

The reason that the 1911 census is not my first love is partly down to being of an age where I personally knew many people who were alive during this period, and still know relatives whose siblings were born before it took place. Also, being part of a relatively close family, I’ve found the 1911 census not as revelational as it’s 1851 counterpart.

Which is your favourite census and why?

Tweet your love for the 1851 Census RIGHT NOW!

Surname Saturday: Dunham

The DUNHAM family of Witchford, Cambridgeshire is the subject of today’s Geneabloggers SURNAME SATURDAY meme.

This week’s Surname Saturday post focuses on research I’ve been doing today. This morning I found my link to two new maternal family names, one of which is Dunham (the other is Foreman), so I’ve been typing this entry all day, covering the amount of information that I’ve uncovered in just a few hours.

Witcham church
Witcham parish church, Cambridgeshire, has seen a mixture of building extensions through the years, and more recently removal of headstones to ‘make the grass cutting easier’!

My connection to the Dunham tree happens in Witcham, Cambridgeshire in 1815 when John Hawkins married Jane Dunham. These two people were to become my Gt x 5 Grandparents, with my ancestry following down through their daughter Sarah Hawkins.

John Hawkins, who was illiterate at the time of their 1815 marriage, worked as a labourer. He was born about 1796 in Witcham.

Jane Dunham, who could at least sign her name in 1815, was born in about 1793. At the time of the marriage, the Banns and Marriage entries state that they were ‘otp’ (of this parish), however no trace of Jane could be found in the church records until the Banns.

The censuses

Having found the 1841 census entry for John and Jane, along with their growing brood of children (they had eight in all), the shortcomings of the 1841 census was unable to tell me which village Jane was actually from.

The 1851 census revealed the clue – it was Witchford – a village I have personally had connections to all my life, and in fact I was named after it (it’s St Andrew, although I wasn’t fortunate to be named the ‘Saint’ bit… yet). It’s one where several other of my ancestral families have lived and still do, and many of my ancestors and relatives have been buried.

Witchford, Cambridgeshire
St Andrew’s Church at Witchford, Cambridgeshire, home to yet another ancestral name.

With this piece of information I was able to rummage through the Witchford Parish Register and found Jane’s baptism in January 1794. Her parents were given as William and Alice Dunham.

The family grows

I then looked to see if this Jane had any siblings – with a rummage either side of her own baptism. I found four other siblings – 3 sisters and 1 brother. Having gauged the range of the births, I then crossed my fingers and looked for a William and Alice marriage.

There it was! William Dunham married Alice Foreman in Witchford in June 1789.

Next up was the burials. Another rummage revealed what seemed like an unfortunate picture:

  • William Dunham – he appears to have died in 1844, outliving all but his daughter Jane.
  • Alice Dunham (née Foreman) – died age 52 in 1821.
    • Elizabeth Dunham – the oldest, born in 1790. She died weeks later.
    • Alice Dunham – Born abt 1791, died in 1800.
    • Jane Dunham – my descendant, born 1793 – married John Hawkins.
    • William Dunham – Born abt 1797, appears to have died in 1799.
    • Rebecca Dunham – Born 1799, died 1800.

From this, it appears that after marrying Alice, they both have undergone insurmountable pain and heartache by outliving all of their children apart from my ancestor, Jane Dunham.

There’s no indication as to why the children died – disease? prematurity? harsh conditions? malnutrition? The possibilities could be anything at this period in history where life expectancy for adults wasn’t as it is today, and infant mortality rates were still high.

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