Problems with finding information in census returns

Old Herts

How To


For a general discussion of why there may be difficulties in finding someone on the census see But I Can't Find ...

And don't forget that the job of collecting the data on the original forms was not without difficulty. Read about the experiences of the enumerators in Derbyshire in 1901.

Many of the questions I get arise because people cannot find their relatives in the census returns. As a result I am bringing together links to a number of examples, using various sources where available, to demonstrate what can go wrong and how to tackle it.

My Ancestors in the 1901 Census: This looks at a large number of entries on 1901 Census Online  and analyses the variety of problems found. Additional comments have been added to show how the same problem entries are indexed by Ancestry.

An Assessment of Ancestry for Census Searching: A search for my ancestors as recorded by Ancestry in the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses on Ancestry - with details of the problems found.

Findmypast: (previously findmypast): Rerun of selected tests from An Assessment of Ancestry for Census Searching. In some cases it was more accurate than Ancestry, but failed badly on a test for leading capital letters with the Phipson surname. Two other gross transcription errors were found.

Census Transcription - Problem with Capital Letters: Problems with a difficult capital letter complicated because the enumerator wrote his capital letters in several different ways. (Incorrectly transcribed on Ancestry but correctly transcribed on 1901 Census Online)

Where is it? Evaluating "Erroneous" Place Names: This provides a wide range of examples about what can go wrong, using the search for "Burton, Herts" as an example. Hertfordshire? is an example where a place name in a completely different county has been interpreted as representing the county of Hertfordshire.

NUTTER, Mill End, Rickmansworth, 1881 census: Resolving a wild goose chase that was started by a transcription error compounded by the inappropriate assumption of an implied "ditto" and a failure to check the original records.

BOWER, Cheshunt, circa 1850: Poor handwriting and the use of initials instead of a given name would make this hard to find in any case - but Ancestry puts the returns in the wrong county. In addition the special Hertfordshire transcripts of the 1851 census produced by the University of Hertfordshire and the Hertfordshire Family History Society probably give an incorrect street address because of inadequate recording by the enumerator and the use of implied "ditto" by the transcriber.

MILES, Aspenden, born c 1806 & 1851 census: See how the place name Aspenden can end up being indexed as Hoopston on Ancestry.

Some census problems are also encountered in the Tutorial.

Page updated October 2007