Searching in the UK Census databases

Much of the United Kingdom census data is available online through various paid (and some free) services. This data is a goldmine for finding out family history information but it usually requires a bit of digging.

As an example, I wanted to find out information on ‘Marian Barber’, born in 1876, in Birmingham, England. I had got this information from the birth certificate of one of Marian’s children. Also from the birth certificate I knew that Marian’s parents were Joseph and Mary Ann Barber.

My first stop was the online free census database. This is a volunteer effort to enter all the census information and provide it availble for free. It is currently incomplete so there is no guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for but it makes for a good first start.

Using the search facility I started with the 1891 census and searched with Marian’s name and birth year. Her entry was there as the only result. From the result you can click on the ‘Show Household’ button to find out information on all members of the household during the night of the census. This listed:

  • Joseph Barber, Head of Household, Aged 53, Pearl Button Maker (Employer)
  • Mary Ann Barber, Wife, Aged 50
  • Eliza Barber, Daughter, Aged 21
  • Minnie Barber, Daughter, Aged 17
  • Marian Barber, Daughter, Aged 15
  • Eva Barber. Daughter, Aged 10
  • Alice Lowe, Servant, Aged 24

It also listed their address as being 4 St Georges Crescent, Birmingham.

Freecen does not have the 1881 or 1901 census information which would be the next ones to try for Marian. To access those I went to Ancestry’s census database. This is a paid service but it is well worth it in my opinion. It enables you to search across all the census data they have and view the actual census images.

Again, searching for Marion provides hits on the 1891 and 1881 census. Looking at the latter finds a number of Marian Barbers but only two with the same approximate birth year. One of these has the address in Birmingham as this seems quite likely. Pulling up the details gives:

  • Eliza Barber, Daughter, Aged 11
  • Eva Barber, Daughter, Aged 4 months old
  • Jesse Barber, Son, Aged 3
  • Joseph Barber, Head, Aged 43, Pearl Button Maker, Employs 48
  • Joseph Barber, Son, Aged 4
  • Marian Barber, Daughter, Aged 5
  • Mary Ann Barber, Wife, Aged 40
  • Minnie Barber, Daughter, Aged 7
  • Rebecca Barber, Daughter, Aged 15
  • Rose Barber, Daughter, Aged 14
  • Ann M Kelsall, Servant, Aged 18
  • Sarah Ann Worley, Servant, Aged 18

This time the address is 2 St Georges Crescent. So we now have more members of the family and a new address. We also know that Joseph employed 48 people in his pearl button making business.

The actual scanned images of the census pages containing this information and more is split across two pages - page 1 and page 2.

The steps I usually follow from here is to search for each person I find in each census result across all available census data. This enables me to get clues as to what other dates I should start researching.

If someone ‘drops off’ the census then they may have died, moved out or (if female) got married. For example, Jesse Barber is in the 1881 census but not the 1891 one. To see if he may have passed away I would check the death register for this 10 year period. Doing this finds 3 Jesse Barbers who died during this period which gives me something to go on. I don’t actually know what happened to Jesse yet - still researching!

One disappearance was Eliza Barber. She is on the 1881 and 1891 census but not the 1901. Interestingly while searching for Eva Barber in the 1901 census I got the following information:

  • Eva Barber, sister-in-law, aged 20
  • Emma Farmer, Aunt to wife, aged 65
  • Harriet Gury, Servant, aged 23
  • Donovan Odell, Son, aged 4
  • Eliza Odell, Wife, aged 31
  • Henry Odell, Head, aged 35
  • Kathleen Odell, Daughter, aged 6

Here Eva is listed as being a sister in law. That can only be to the head of the household since that is where all the relationships are based from. This makes her the sister of the wife, Eliza Odell. Eva had a sister Eliza Barber who would be aged 31 at this census, the same age as Eliza Odell. Could Eliza Odell and Eliza Barber be the same person? Possibly and this helps us find her spouse and children.

From here I would use this information to track down the marriage certificate. For marriage searches I tend to use freebmd as the first point of call. This is similar to the free census database but holds volunteer entered birth, death and marriage records. It allows you to search based on both the husband and wife names for the marraige which cuts down the number of matches. And we know that if Eliza Barber married Henry Odell then it must have happened between 1891 and 1901.

Putting these ranges in freebmd immediately comes up with a match. Henry Joseph Odell married in the fourth quarter of 1891 in Aston, folio reference 6d, page 775. Looking on that page shows an Eliza Barber. This would seem to indicate that the theory that Eliza Odell is Eliza Barber. Lots of new people to add to the family tree and to research as a result!

I hope this gives a taste of how census information can be used to find out about family information. While it doesn’t guarantee that the information is accurate or correct, it does stand a good chance of giving lots of new names and leads to look for and confirm with other records.



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