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.


5 thoughts on “Making sense of the Census

  1. Hi

    First, thanks for liking my post on Locksands Life. I am a genealogy addict and have enjoyed reading your posts. It looks as though we were going through similar stages at similar times. Recently I have been looking at UK Probate records and came across this:

    Saltman, Harris of 40 Beechgrove Road, Newcastle upon Tyne died 22nd February 1941. Probate 18th September (1942) to Isaac Saltman and Nathan Science, drapers. Effects £6832 19s 2d.

    Well it isn’t your Harris, but there clearly was another (born 1857, I think)



    • My pleasure and thanks for doing likewise for me.

      The Harris Saltman you refer to is most likely the younger brother of my great grandfather (Israel). He was born in 1859 and had a son called Isaac.

      Do you know if one get access to UK probate records from outside the UK? And how one would go about this?


      • It’s on Ancestry library edition which you may be able to access for free at a local library. It’s probably on but I have an objection to paying for data which should be free. But if you are a member I expect there’s a search for a database option and I just type ‘probate’ and there you are.

        You are so right about unusual names. In my family, mostly from Sussex, England, we take an interest in people given the forename Lorenzo. It isn’t common but was used through several generations of ancestors.



  2. Pingback: Closing the gap | In search of Harris

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