Using the census: can one person be recorded in two places?


03 November 2021
Unravelling a UK Census puzzle
Paul Chiddicks takes a look at a family history mystery where one man appears to have been recorded on the 1851 England & Wales Census twice...

Paul Chiddicks is the author of Family Tree magazine's Dear Paul column, a bi-monthly round-up of genealogy gems, quirky tales and family history mysteries.

Here, he presents a tale sent in by Family Tree reader Thelma, who has found the same ancestor recorded twice on the 1851 Census:

I am sure that we all have an ancestor that has led us a merry dance and FT reader Thelma's 3 x great-grandfather James Silverthorne was one such ancestor. Thelma struggled for a number of years, trying to establish whether there were one or two people with the same name in the 1851 Census. James had led a very well-documented life in London, but he constantly lied about his age, which caused a lot of confusion. 

Thelma found James, a widower, in the 1851 Census living in Brunswick Square, Haggerstone in East London, the only other occupant being Maria Heard, his 22-year-old housekeeper; here he gave his age as 54. However, there was another 1851 Census entry for James that showed him living in Elder Walk, Islington. This entry had him living with his wife, Louisa, and two daughters.

It was the discovery of a newspaper report of a court case in 1848 which referred to James as 'an elderly Lothario’, that made Thelma look again at the Elder Walk census entry where James' details were virtually identical to those in Brunswick Square. He was a proprietor of houses and born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, but on this census return he stated that he was married and his age was 57; Louisa was 32! It was the same man!

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Recorded twice on the same census

Just six weeks before James died in 1853, he married his housekeeper, Maria Heard. Both his death certificate and burial entry show his age as 60, having been baptised in Westbury, Wiltshire, in 1781. He was, in fact, 72. During his life, James had dabbled in property in Finsbury Market and left almost all of his substantial estate to his wife of six weeks and a friend who he appointed co-executor.

Would you like to guess what happens next? The friend and co-executor, who was 35 years older than Maria, were married. The moral of this story is, if you see two almost identical entries for the same person, in the same census, the chances are it is the same person, recorded twice.

Extracted from the Dear Paul column in December 2021 Family Tree.

The England and Wales 1921 Census is released on 6 January 2022. Don't miss the Family Tree Celebratory Conference online - details here!

You can follow Paul's blog and you can find him on Twitter @chiddickstree. Visit his website.

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