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Burials and Censuses

To link with Deceased Online's forthcoming competition to win one of five copies of my new book, Tracing Your Ancestors Using the Census (Pen & Sword, 2013), this week's post examines the use of burial records and censuses in family history research. 

Besides records of birth/baptism, marriage and death/burial, census records are some of the most commonly used in genealogy. Once you have found a burial record on the Deceased Online database, you may want to look further into the life of the deceased person. Using the details on the burial record alongside those in censuses will help to give you a more rounded picture of your ancestor and his or her life.

Most family historians use the Victorian and Edwardian censuses of 1841-1911. These were taken every ten years and have been digitized on a number of databases. The original records are held at The National Archives. The 1841 census was the first to name each individual (as opposed to just heads of household) and to record personal information across all areas. By 1911, these details included:
  • name and surname
  • relationship to head of the family
  • age
  • marital status (including number of years in current marriage and number of children born to that marriage)
  • occupation
  • birthplace
  • nationality
  • infirmity
National census taking began in 1801 but few records survive from the censuses of 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831. What does exist may be found in local record offices or online.

Example of a Welsh census entry from 1891
Burial registers often contain clues that you can use to find your ancestor in surviving census records. These include:
  • name of the deceased - is this a married name or maiden names? Note how it is spelt. Has the name been changed?
  • address, abode or residence - some census websites can be searched by address. Make sure you note all relevant details.
  • age - use this to identify the person by their correct name on the census. Ages at burial may be incorrect. Many Victorians adjusted their ages to match that of a spouse, for example.
  • name of informant or graveholder - do you know how is this person connected to your ancestor? He/she could be a relative, neighbour or friend, but may also be an employer or the manager of an institution like the workhouse. Finding this person in the census could tell you more about your ancestor's life.
  • date - move backwards to the nearest census and begin with that. Gradually move farther back in time to explore your family's history.
The competition to win a copy of Tracing Your Ancestors Using the Census will be launched on this blog shortly. To keep up to date with this and all our other news, do follow our Twitter and Facebook posts!


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