1881 Census

Limitations of the 1881 Census CD

In using the 1881 Census CD one must remember that at each stage from the original visit of the census enumerator to the compilation of the CD there will have been errors of various kinds and a very brief summary of the more important issues is relevant:

Surnames: In many cases the census enumerator will have written down the surname as he heard it, - allowing for the possibility of phonetic errors, then copied it to the census book, allowing copying errors. In many cases the writing in the book is not very clear (and may have faded) allowing for various transcription errors. While the CD rom software tries to help by bringing together similar names it is still possible that the name as recorded in the index is not what you might have expected. Similar phonetic/transcription errors apply to most other fields.

Given names: The name recorded on the census will often be the familiar name used in the family. This may not be the same as the names used at baptism or birth registration - although in many cases it will be a recognisable nickname.

Age: The age must be taken with care. In most cases it is probably about right - but in some cases, especially with illiterate families, the census enumerator would simply guess. This can be seen by looking at the number of people listed as living in Hertfordshire whose age was 39 (2155), 40 (2867) and 41 (1938), or 49 (1748) 50 (2344) and 51 (1345). While you would not expect exactly the same number in each year the significantly higher figures for 40 and 50 (and other decades) is a measure of the many times the enumerator wrote 40 or 50 when he was guessing "about 40" or "about 50". Even if the age is correct the CD assumes that someone aged 40 at the time of the 1881 census was born in 1841 when in fact they were more likely to have been born in 1840.

Place of Birth: The answer given to this question can be very variable and may be the name of a town, a parish, a hamlet or a farm or row of cottages in the countryside. While in most cases there is no problem this can lead to difficulties - such as the "Doo Little" example given here - where a place given in a London return refers merely to the name of a row of cottages and the county. When an unknown place name crops up at least you are aware there may be a difficulty. However if you are searching for a person born in a particular parish you may not find them because, for instance, the name of a farm was used as the place of birth.

County of Birth: However it is written in the census book the CD standardises the name to that of the county town in the case of Hertfordshire - maximising the possibility of confusion. One must always bear in mind that while the CD says Hertford the original might have been a scrawl that could be Herts, Hants, Kent, etc ....

Census Place: This is the place written by the census enumerator at the top of the page of the book. This was not done in a systematic manner. For instance just north of Tring there are two villages. The smallest, Puttenham, is a "census place" despite the fact that it share a book with several other small communities. The larger village of Wilstone is not retrievable as a census place because the enumerator counted it as no more than an address within Tring. If you can't find a known village as a census place try using it as a place of birth with no given/surname and you should be able to find out what census place it has been listed under.

The CD, as supplied, provides no means of searching the following fields

Building/Dwelling: This gives the name of the property - sometimes in a helpful form (such as 24 High Street) and sometime as no more than the district name. By looking at neighbouring properties it is sometimes possibly to tie the location to modern street maps, etc, but the job is made harder because the CD does not include the description of the area at the start of each census book.

Occupation: This field is reproduced as given. In some cases the original description was "non-standard" and additional words have been added - although this is only obvious on the CD when the additional information was written in brackets. There are some standard definitions - for instance "Cook (ND)" means that the cook was not a domestic servant (and so presumably worked what we would call the catering industry).

Relation to Head of Household: This field is standardised, so may not be exactly what is in the census book.

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