The census returns for 1841 – 1901 have proved invaluable for cross-matching with the parish records to identify family groups. Those from 1851 onwards are especially valuable for tracing the female line as we can see where they were born, providing at least a start on where to look for their families. It is sometimes surprising just how far away wives came from and I often wonder how they met. Did the brides’ fathers bring their families here to look for work? Had the grooms gone away to look for work and brought their brides back with them?
It’s also interesting to see how the census returns reflect the spread of Catchloves from a small group of families along the borders of Hampshire & Sussex in 1841. Throughout this period there were always individual younger Catchloves working away from home as servants, often in the Greater London area, and this number tended to increase over time; in Victorian England & Wales, 11-13% of the female population were domestic servants (see note i, below). But the 1851 census shows that one Catchlove moved his family from Houghton in Sussex to Moulton in Northamptonshire and by 1881, his son had moved his family to Hunslet in Yorkshire. So both the Northamptonshire and the Yorkshire branches originated from a single family in Sussex. Similarly, by 1871 another Catchlove family had moved from Littlehampton in Sussex to Liverpool and later emigrated to Australia.
It has been fun to track the different families through the generations and see the changes in location and range of occupations, and I have grown quite fond of some of the characters I have come across and felt sad at the deaths of the children. But as the families spread out, it became more difficult to keep track of who belonged to which branch – especially as there are a few very common names in the Catchlove clan that seem to repeat in every branch and every generation. So many Thomases, Edmunds and Williams! Wife-matching helped a little, but there are also many Marys, Anns, and Sarahs! Matching crops of children helps to match family groups, but we sadly see children disappearing between census returns and then find records of their deaths in the BMD or burial registers. It was refreshing to see little crops of more unusual names – William Barrol and Emma Lemmon, children of William the Chairmaker (whose ancestors included a Barbary Catchlove) – Blanche, Leyland and Victor in the Liverpool branch - and the fabulous Tryphena (a Greek name meaning “delicate”) in London. In the end, it often came down to age, birth place and a general tendency for most of the men to follow their father’s occupation. My own branch (family 1) seems to be full of grooms and coachmen - so it seems a little ironic that I am nervous around horses!
I use Ancestry.co.uk for searching the census, so the results depend very much on the efficiency of their search engine. One problem is that people seem to disappear from the census, sometimes for 10 or 20 years before inexplicably resurfacing, and sometimes permanently. This can of course be due to errors in the transcripts or even the originals, resulting in them not turning up in a search and it is fair to say there are more transcript errors in the older census material, as the handwriting is very often more difficult to read. However, the search is pretty good at picking out even very odd spellings; entries with transcript errors that have still been found by the search tool include: Catch, Catcher, Catchlon, Cacthlone, Catchlow, Catchlorie, Catchlore, Catchlobe, Catchlose, Catchlere, Catchlers, Catchton, Catchlson, Catcholoe, Catchlooe, Catchloue, Cacthlere, Catchshoue, Catehlove, Cathlove, and Cathlone. A simple comparison with the scanned original can soon establish whether or not it is actually Catchlove.
1841 was the first census that recorded more than a simple head-count. Previously a local authority figure (the local squire, magistrate or priest) would simply send in a tally of the people of each status category in his parish. There was therefore no established system and probably no training for enumerators, although they received written instructions. Enumerators were paid a pittance and often worked in poor conditions; it would be fair to say that a few may not perhaps have made the greatest effort at accuracy where there was difficulty in understanding answers. Perhaps this also helps to explain why some households were missed out altogether!
There was a general suspicion of officialdom among the working poor, which often led to evasion - particularly with regard to questions concerning occupation (with a fear of taxation) - so information regarding occupation may be vague, wrong or even missing altogether.
Until the Education Act of 1870, which introduced compulsory education through local government-funded school boards, elementary education relied on voluntary organisations and provision was haphazard at best (note iv, below). Until around 1890, then, very few of the working class population would have been literate, especially in rural areas. The answers recorded on the census returns were therefore dictated to an enumerator, who would have had to make an educated guess at spellings of names, particularly unusual personal names or unfamiliar place names. There is also the possibility that they sometimes misheard answers – we can imagine them sat in a tiny cottage talking to a harassed mother surrounded by noisy children and dogs! Even as late as 1901, enumerators were obliged to question many subjects and complete the returns on their behalf. It is not surprising, then that names are frequently misspelled or even misheard altogether. For example, Edmund can be found recorded variously as Edmund, Edmond, Edward or even Edwin, while apparently referring to the same person if one checks the age and place of birth.
The census only records who slept in the house the previous night; where someone stayed at an inn or lodging house their name may simply be recorded as N.K. (not known).
In the 1841 census, ages of individuals over 15 years were rounded down to the nearest five years - e.g. over 15 but younger than 20 would be recorded as 15; over 70 but younger than 75 would be recorded as 70, and so on (in principle, though not always in practice) - making the birth year little more than a guess. If there were two people with the same name born only 2 or 3 years apart, how do we know which one is which when we get to 1851 and beyond? We can only hope they were living at the same address, or at least with the same relatives.
Older people were often uncertain of their exact age as civil registration was not introduced until 1837. Equally, the ages of children and young people may have been deliberately falsified - either because it was necessary to be over 21 to enter into legal contracts such as lease of property, or to hide the fact that under-age children were working – alternatively, children who were working may not have had their occupation listed (note v, below).
Census returns were subject to simple human error, quite apart from those above, and which may or may not be obvious. For example, relationships are sometimes wrongly recorded; in the 1851 census Edward the Blacksmith’s son is listed as his wife!
The 1841 census simply required a Yes/No answer as to whether one was born in the same county but even so, answers are not always consistent with those of later returns. Thus, Edward the Blacksmith is shown in 1841 as being born in Sussex but in 1851 as being born in Hampshire.
Where people have a middle name, they may appear under either name, according to which one they customarily used. Even though enumerators were instructed to list only the first name, in practice, they could only record the information given to them by the family at that time, which was often inconsistent and may be a middle name or even a pet name. For example, Hester also appears as Hettie and Selina Jane first appears as Jane and later as Selina J.
Census returns were initially written onto forms (variously referred to as Census Forms, Enumeration Forms or Householders’ Schedules), which were then copied into the Census Enumerators’ Books by hand and the original forms were destroyed after copying. This introduces four possible sources of error: (a) errors in recording the information on the form at the outset; (b) possible accidental destruction of some forms before copying, (c) copyists’ errors in transferring the information into the census book, and (d) information being obscured by tally marks in the books made by clerks who subsequently reviewed the information for statistical purposes.
Census returns are valuable documents for establishing relationships and tracing movements, but like all historical documents they can be prone to error and misinterpretation. It is always important to check the scanned images of the original census books as there are numerous transcript errors in the printed versions of census material, whatever the year, due to difficulties reading old handwriting. Even so, the original handwritten books also often contain errors (or introduce the potential for errors), which could have come about in a variety of ways. For example:
Anthony Burton, 2001 . “Small Adults: Education and the Life of Children”, in John M. Mackenzie, (ed.) The Victorian Vision: Inventing New Britain. London: V&A Publications.
I have attempted to synthesise the data from the census returns with that from the parish records to try to work out the different relationships and family groups, though some of this remains speculative - see My Catchlove Family Trees.
To see the Catchlove information from each census, use the drop-down menus from the navigation bar at top left.