Making sense of the Census

Every five years Australia takes a Census.  The results form perhaps the single most important source of socio-demographic information for anyone who is trying to imagine the future.  How has the population changed from one period to another?  Is it growing or declining?  Is there a bulge forming in a particular age group?  Are we becoming more culturally diverse?  Do we work fewer or more hours than we did five years ago?  Are we better educated and wealthier?  Do more of us use the Internet?  Are we increasingly doing voluntary work or caring for others?  Such indicators and trends are a key part of an urban planning professional’s tool kit because they help tell us how to provide physical infrastructure and human services.  The Census is my crystal ball!

Thankfully, I would not need to delve into South African Census records where the history of Census taking has been patchy at best and the reliability of data questionable, at least during the apartheid era.  The Group Areas Act, which mandated racial segregation from the mid 1960’s until 1990, not only resulted in the forced removal of communities with long ties to urban areas, but also skewed Census results by significantly under-enumerating people who chose to live and work illegally in the cities.  Such people would understandably have been reluctant to admit a Census official into their homes, let alone complete a form, for fear of being repatriated to a rural homeland where work opportunities were less abundant.

I have turned to the British Census in the first instance.

Great Britain has taken a Census every ten years since 1801.  Under the “100 year rule”, access to details such as names, addresses and marital status is granted once the records are a century old.  This is a valuable source of information for family history researchers.  For me too.

I began by looking for Sarah and Israel in the 1871 Census for England and Wales.  They are not listed there, nor do they appear in the Scottish Census of the same year.  From this I infer that they had most likely migrated to England after that date and prior to 1876.

The 1881 Census is more forthcoming.  Sarah is now living at 17 Gildart Street in the suburb of Islington, Liverpool, reinforcing the notion that she and Israel may have already moved to Liverpool by the time of his death.  Her place of birth is identified as Russia and her occupation as “hawker”.

Other occupants of the household are:

  • Harry (Harris), five years old and identified as “scholar”
  • Joseph Edleman, son, aged one and born in Liverpool
  • Samuel Marks, Sarah’s father, born in Russia and a hawker
  • Fanny and Sammy Freedman, Sarah’s sister and nephew respectively, the former born in Russia and the latter in Ireland
  • Isaac Fine and Raphael Rome, each born in Russia, hawkers, and boarding at this address

Harris now has a half-brother, Joseph.

Sarah goes under the surname of Edleman.   Her relationship to the head of the household is cited as “wife” and her marital condition (sic) as “married”.  There is no evidence of her husband residing at this address or at any other in Great Britain at that time.  Interestingly, Sarah’s brother in law is also absent.  Perhaps he and Mr Edleman were travelling abroad at the time the Census was taken?  I shall never know.

Sarah’s father is referred to as Samuel, rather than Marcus.  Family history researchers are constantly plagued by name changing and I was not to be spared this challenge.  Marcus may have changed his name for any reason ranging from language difficulties to hiding from debt collectors.  Or perhaps he simply preferred the name, Samuel.

I would have to wait until the 1891 Census to learn more.

In this return, I located a Sarah Marks, widowed and living alone in Fairclough Lane, West Derby, Liverpool.  Her occupation is stated as “stocking knitting”.  The record shows that she is born in Russia and her estimated year of birth is 1855, both of which align with my great grandmother’s date and place of birth.  But the surname change puzzles me.  If this is Sarah Edleman, formerly Saltman, nee Marks, why is she using her maiden name?  Was this to attract another suitor? (this Sarah was only 35 at the time).  And where are her children?

Irrespective of whether this person is my great grandmother, one thing about the 1891 Census is very clear: there is no record of Harris or Joseph residing in the United Kingdom at that time.

Births, deaths and marriages

I’ve always been grateful of a relatively uncommon surname.  And while over the years I’ve had to endure a variety of misspellings including Saltzman, Saldsman, Sultman and even Saltram – the latter being an Australian variation which borrows from a winery of that name – I have never more so valued its uncommonness than when searching for ancestors.

I knew Harris’ age at and approximate date of death.  Working backwards, this told me that he had been born in 1875 or 1876.

Back at Rumsey Hall, I browsed the St Catherine’s House Index for these two years, checking all four quarters for each.  It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for: an entry for Harris Saltman between April and June 1876, the birth registered in the district of Sheffield in the county of Yorkshire West Riding.

There were no other entries by this name over this period.  I’d hit pay dirt.

I now had a three month window for a birth date, for which I would need a copy of his birth certificate.  And for the equivalent of five pound sterling, the Society could order one on my behalf.

It arrived three weeks later.

As well as a date, the certificate identifies a place of birth: 37 Shepherd Street, Sheffield.  This address is also given for Harris’ parents, Israel Saltman and Sarah Saltman (formerly Marks).  The certificate had yielded up my paternal great-grandparents.

Israel’s occupation is listed as “commercial traveller”, a travelling salesman in contemporary parlance.  What goods did he deal in, I wondered?  Did he have allocated territory?  Did he spend long periods away from home like most travellers did then and can still do today?  How would this lifestyle have sat with a young wife and new baby?

Israel’s and Sarah’s son was born on 22nd April 1876.  For ballet buffs, this is also the day on which Tchaikovsky completed Swan Lake.

Encouraged by my find, I decided to look for registration of Israel’s and Sarah’s marriage.  I browsed the indexes at Rumsey Hall and found an entry in the third quarter of 1875.  I pondered whether theirs had been a shotgun wedding?  Had Mr Marks had to put the hard word on Israel?  Only the certificate could tell me so I handed over another five quid to the Society and waited the obligatory three weeks.

The marriage certificate shows that Israel and Sarah were living in Sheffield at the time they married, less than a quarter of a mile apart and in the same general area as Shepherd Street.  Their respective fathers are identified on the certificate: Marcus Marks, Sarah’s father and a shopkeeper, and Zelic Saltman, traveller.  I had inadvertently discovered two great great-grandparents.

Their date of marriage was 7th July 1875.  Israel’s age is stated as 20 and Sarah’s as 21.  And while it wouldn’t have mattered to me, I deduced that Harris had not been conceived out of wedlock.

But any satisfaction I may have derived from learning about this family unit was short-lived.  Further review of the indexes revealed that Israel had died in the third quarter of 1876 in Liverpool (West Derby).

Israel left behind a wife who had barely emerged from her teens and a son who would never know his father.


The end of the world is nigh


A unique time to be alive, to be able to say that you were present when the ends of the decade, century and millennium were about to converge.  It was surely a time to celebrate, to look forward to new beginnings, to have hope for the future.

Not so.  If the doomsayers’ predictions were to run their course, then the global community was in for a bumpy ride.

Years that end in zero are well known for causing fears that the world is about to end.  As the first millennium drew to a close, European pilgrims moved in droves towards Jerusalem where Jesus was expected to appear and deliver the last judgment on the final day of 999.  Many had given away their worldly possessions in the hope of guaranteeing a place in heaven when the end came, but thousands died before even having reached their destination.  On the day of destiny, those who had made it to Jerusalem climbed to the top of Mt Zion awaiting the appearance of Jesus and their salvation.  They were doubly disappointed.

Almost a thousand years later, it was a microchip that had difficulty interpreting the year 2000 that would turn the world upside down.  The “Y2K crisis” or “millennium bug” was predicted to cause all manner of disasters ranging from the failure of essential infrastructure to the disappearance of food from supermarket shelves.  A disaster of seismic proportions was around the corner.

Back in Sydney, while we had one eye on the pending havoc that the millennium bug might wreak, we were probably more – and quite reasonably so – preoccupied with getting ready to host the 2000 Olympic Games.  The Games were being held in Sydney for the first time ever and for only the second time in the southern hemisphere.  We dared not mess up.  With the venues completed on time and the Games’ “green” credentials well established, the remaining potential obstacle to earning that all important endorsement of “the best Games ever” would be our ailing public transport system and, in particular, our temperamental rail network.  Right up to the Opening Ceremony we worried that when called to account, it would throw a tantrum (it didn’t).

Thanks to being in the right place at the right time, I had managed to carve a small role for myself in writing the planning documentation for two Olympic venues, one of the most remarkable breaks of my career.

But by late 1997, this work had run out and I was in what I euphemistically refer to as my “between jobs” phase.  The more familiar term for this state of inactivity is unemployment.

Enter Rumsey Hall, an unassuming two storey building located at the northern end of Kent Street in Sydney’s historic Rocks district, and home to the Society of Australian Genealogists’ overseas resources.  I had found the Society in my cyberspace wanderings and decided that its resources would be of use to me.

It was October, with daylight saving assisted long evenings minus the heat and cloying humidity that would follow a few months later.  Fragrant Chinese star jasmine was in full flower and the jacarandas would bloom shortly, populating the metropolitan landscape with splashes of purple.  One of the loveliest times to be in Sydney.  And a good time to do a bit of research.

I signed up for a year’s membership to gain access to the Society’s resources.  On my first visit, a volunteer gave me a quick tour of the various indexes and records, and how to use them.  I quickly established that the St Catherine’s House index of births, deaths and marriages in Britain – bound volumes of hard copy which had to be booked in advance – was a logical starting point.  After a quick browse of the bookshop downstairs and armed with my booking, I walked out onto Kent Street, to return another day.