Sunday, 22 February 2009

Filling in the Form

Our ancestors understood what a census was much more than they understood how to fill in a census form.

When it came to the statistical columns they were prone to give totals rather than a tick for each individual member. Most of them gave the names of the household, usually—but not always--starting with the family arranged in descending order of age from the head. The family was followed by other household members: possibly aged parents, the wife’s sister, lodgers, live-in employees and/or servants. Relationships were not requested, but can often be assumed. For each “inmate”, as the census form described them, the occupation, birthplace, religion and age was listed. Quite often the only occupation given was that of the head of the household; servants, particularly young ones, were seldom indicated as such.

The fun begins with the columns headed Male and Female. Suddenly the head of the house tires of all this writing and tells us there were, say, 5 males and 4 females. Not very helpful when he had used initials in place of names when listing the family in the first place. Who is to know whether the family included John and Mary, or Matthew and Jane? Sometimes the male and female columns for school attendance can narrow down the problem, but that depended on the age of the family.

The column titled Married or Single also caused problems. Answers were quite often omitted, perhaps because the title was set sideways on on the form, and not easily readable by those with little education. It was also confusing to them whether they should answer with ‘m’ or ‘s’ or with a tick for married. Two further columns for Widowers and Widows were more likely to be filled in where necessary, particularly if it was the head of the household so described.

The next set of columns dealt with Family Members and Non Family Members. This was a difficult concept for many. Many a lodger or servant was included as a family member. In St Lawrence’s Ward no one was considered non-family, in St John’s they were much more selective. Another peculiarity to be blamed on the individual enumerator?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Back to Work

Just in case you are all thinking that I have lost interest in the blog, that’s not the case. The fact is that the film I was waiting for arrived at the FHC in mid January and I can once again spend the better part of two days a week taking pictures from the microfilm screen. Well, that was so until this week—we’ve been snowed in!

It’s not just a centimetre of the white stuff, but two falls of about 3 inches each. The first snow was Sunday night, after weather warnings throughout the weekend. Transportation came to a standstill, even in London. Schools were closed and many remained shut on Tuesday, much to the objection of hardier mortals. Such are the difficulties of occasional snow.

I live in a village in, maybe I should say on, the Chiltern Hills northwest of London and the Family History Centre is 8 miles away at the bottom of a very steep incline. The organizer lives close to the top of another hill. I usually give her a lift as otherwise she has to take a trip into town by bus, then change buses for a further ride in another direction. Monday evening I rang to tell her my taxi service wasn’t running on Tuesday. She wasn’t disappointed. No matter how much I want to add to my “picture collection”, I wasn’t going to risk the dangers of icy 10% slopes.

This morning we have awakened to another fall of snow. The family cars have turned into large whte blobs. It is awfully quiet on our side street. This time the snow is wet, clinging to every branch—high quality snowballing snow. Again, I have said “No way” to the car journey.

The weather has not kept me away from the computer and data organizing. The transcription is up-to-date. Three of the six divisions of St John’s Ward are complete and two more part done. That may sound odd, but, by mistake, I ordered the first and third reels first and am now working on the middle and largest one.

I have also been progressing on the operation of comparing the three already transcribed wards with the city directories of the time. Yesterday I completed the initial “T” in both directories. Another week and I will have finished a project that last summer I thought would take years. I am also working on some maps which I hope to be sharing with you shortly. It all depends on whether Google can help me out.