Sophisticated Use of the Census

The following is based on some research I did for a client during my work as a professional genealogist. It has been reproduced here with his permission. I would never disclose details about a client’s research without their permission to do so.

It does show some advanced techniques that are sometimes necessary to overcome brick walls in research, even when ancestors used different surnames.

The research concerns Charles Stratton (although the name is sometimes recorded as Strattion). It was already known that Charles had married a lady named Mary Lewis at All Saints, South Acton, on 14 September 18911. The entry of the marriage from the parish register recorded that Charles was then age twenty-seven, a bachelor, a labourer, the son of Charles Henry Stratton, also a labourer.

Taking the above information at face value, he was probably born about 1864, and so we could reasonably expect to locate him on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census returns. Yet, he could not be located on any of them. Charles died in 1896 before the next census after his marriage was taken.

A search in the General Register Office Index of Births for boys named Charles Stratton (and variants) failed to show any particularly promising matches. However, there was a baptism of a Charles Stratton on 12 June 18642, at St. Stephen Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, which had been located by way of the extensive London area parish register collection available through Ancestry. This boy was recorded as the son of Charles and Mary Ann Stratton, of 5 Williams Cottages, Latymer Road. It wasn’t yet confirmed that this was the correct baptism.

Even with the above, it was not possible to locate the family on the above mentioned census returns under the name of Stratton or variants. Locating them on the census really was the best chance of being able to follow the family back further. Or at least eliminate the 1864 baptism as incorrect.

I therefore did what I would call an advanced census search. By this I mean that I searched for all boys named Charles (no surname was specified), born about 1864 in Hammersmith, whose parents were recorded on the census as Charles/Henry and Mary Ann. You would be surprised how few matches this sort of search brings up.

There was one entry which stood out on the 1861 census. This was for a family headed by a Charles and Mary Ann Smith, who had a son named Charles, then age seven, born in Hammersmith. They were living at 1 Charlotte Terrace, Hammersmith3. Also in the household were some younger siblings, including a daughter Elizabeth, then age just two months. A search in the General Register Office Index of Births did indicate that there was a girl named Elizabeth Stratton whose birth was registered in the area in the first quarter of 1871.

A copy of the birth certificate for this Elizabeth Stratton was obtained4. She was born on 19 February 1871, at 1 Charlotte Terrace, Hammersmith. Therefore proving that the Stratton family had been recorded on the 1861 census as at that address as Smith. This girl’s mother’s maiden surname was Fisher, and when a search was done in the General Register Office Index of Births (the newer version as re-indexed with mother’s maiden surnames), Charles’ birth stood out. His birth had been registered as John Charles Strattion.

So why should the Stratton family appear on the census as Smith? There was a small possibility that it was a transcription error by the census enumerators. The pages of the census that we now see (1911 excepted), are not the forms completed by the household themselves, but they are summary books copied up from these returns. Copying up is a process in which errors can creep in. So, if the householder had poor handwriting, perhaps Stratton had been read as Smith. This is however quite a wild error.

The Stratton family were found on the 1871 census, again as Smith. This time they were living at 13 Manchester Street, Kensington5. The head being recorded as Henry Smith (using his middle name). I would speculate that the household had intentionally chosen to conceal themselves by using the surname Smith rather than Stratton.

The above represents some of the barriers that can meet genealogists in a complicated case, even in the Victorian period: surname spelling variations, use and substitution of middle and first names and using completely different surnames!

  1. Parish Registers of All Saints South Action, Register of Marriages 1873-1918, page 73; London Metropolitan Archives: DRO/56/13
  2. Parish Regosters of St. Stephen Shepherds Bush, Register of Baptisms 1850-1895, page 69; London Metropolitan Archives P80/STE/3
  3. 1871 Census for 1 Charlotte Terrace, Hammersmith; The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO): RG10/66 folio: 78 page: 34
  4. Birth Certificate for Elizabeth Strattion; General Register Office, Births in the Quarter Ending March 1871, name: Strattion, Elizabeth district: Kensington volume: 1a page: 173
  5. 1881 Census for 13 Manchester Street, Kensington; TNA: PRO: RG11/34 folio: 70 page: 7