Why does my ancestor appear on the same census twice?


01 August 2022
What family stories might lie behind an ancestor appearing on the census twice?
If you've found an ancestor listed twice on the same census, you might wonder how this could possibly happen. Paul Chiddicks explains why this might be - and how such an error can provide valuable clues to help you take your research further...

Like birth, marriage and deaths certificates, census returns are one of the key documents you will encounter when researching your family tree. Whether you are new to the wonderful hobby of family history, or a seasoned expert, you will not get very far with your research, without  using the census returns.

In a previous blog, I gave some pointers about what to do if an ancestor is missing entirely from the census. In this blog we will take a look at reasons why your ancestor might actually be recorded in the census twice.

Living with extended family

David Rigby sent me a duplicate entry for his ancestor James Hogart/Hoggard, taken from the 1881 census in Yorkshire. On the first entry he is enumerated living with his grandparents in Battersby in Yorkshire and the second time he is recorded, just five miles down the road, living with his cousin Ada Hoggart (Easby) in Great Ayton. Sadly neither census return include a parent listed with young James.

By looking a bit deeper, David was able to prove that James was illegitimate and he spent his early years living with different members of his extended family. From the two entries, we can presume that James was living with his grandparents, who completed the census form in advance, with who would have "normally" been at home on census night. Then on the actual census night, James was actually staying at a cousin’s house and ended up being recorded again, because they literally recorded everyone in the house on the actual night of the census. The good thing of course, with a duplication like this, is that it can help you find extended family members that you might not have otherwise found.

Jane Harris has another really good example, this time from the 1871 census in Orkney and this was taken from Jane’s one-place study. Alexandrina Manson was aged 17 and born in Longhope, Orkney, she was recorded as living at “close off the street” (a small lane off the main street in this case) in Stromness, Orkney and she is here with her father George Manson, 38, seaman, mother Ann Manson, 46, brothers Andrew, 14, and James, 8 and sister Catherine, 6. George was actually her step-father and Andrew, James and Catherine were half siblings. 

She is recorded for a second time as Alexina Taylor, 17, domestic servant, born in Longhope Orkney, her address this time is Victoria Street, Stromness, Orkney. She is recorded here with her Aunt Isabella Stout, 24, Sloop master's wife, also born in Longhope, and Isabella's son, James, 1, born Stromness, Orkney. Isabella Stout was actually the wife of her Uncle Sutherland Stout. The two addresses would have been within a few minute’s walk of each other, but on initial findings, you might not necessarily have made the connection that these two people were indeed the same person. 

To arrive at this conclusion, Jane had to research the family more widely using the FAN principle. For those that might not have come across this term before, FAN stands for Family, Associates, and Neighbours. Using the FAN principle is a process in which you identify a list of people (family, associates and neighbours) that lived and associated with a given ancestor. By researching these other people, Jane was able to reach a conclusion that might have proven a lot more difficult, had she not followed this principle. Jane did not take "daughter" or "niece" at face value and also soon discovered that Alexina is a variant of Alexandrina. 

Alexina/Alexandrina was actually baptised Alexandrina Sutherland Taylor Stout on 3 July 1854 in Walls, Orkney, described as "natural child" and only her mother, Anne Stout (later Mrs George Manson) was named in the baptism entry. (The term ‘natural child’ meant that Anne Stout was not married to the father of the child.) Jane was also able to find an entry in the Walls Kirk Session minutes that included a case where James Taylor, shoemaker, widower, was accused of being the father of her child by Anne Stout. She was eventually absolved and was admitted to the church and her daughter was finally baptised.

In this instance, Jane’s unproven theory was that she lived between the two houses, helping her uncle’s wife while he was at sea, but was still part of her step father’s extended household. In the first family household, she would have been recorded as Manson for appearances, grouping the family all under the head’s name. Then at the second home, the uncle’s wife probably completed the form and being from the same very small settlement, only knew her surname as Taylor and called her Alexina every day. A rather unique example of how important it is to examine all the evidence and piece together the full picture before jumping to conclusions.

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Family secrets

Robin Chiminio discovered her grandmother recorded twice on the 1940 US Census and this led Robin to uncover a remarkable story. Robin’s grandmother was first recorded as living with her brother and sister-in-law in Buffalo, New York, and Robin also found her recorded again, this time in Indiana living with her parents, Robin’s great-grandparents.

 Robin decided to delve a little deeper into the reasons why this might have happened and discovered that her grandmother had been sent away by her parents because she was pregnant with Robin’s mother, so she was sent to Buffalo, New York to live with her older married brother. Remember of course, these were completely different times and keeping up appearances for some families was extremely important. 

However, there is a happy ending to this story; here she met a man who worked with her brother and they were married three months before Robin’s mother was born. The story doesn’t end there, thanks to the powers of DNA, Robin has not only discovered her mother’s biological father, but she also has found an amazing 15 half siblings! This just shows you how following up on a duplicate entry can lead you to so many new discoveries.

The form was filled out in advance

One of the more common reasons to find your ancestor recorded twice was because large organisations filled out their census returns in advance of the actual census night. We can find many examples of people being recorded twice because ‘they would normally be at a certain location’ on census night, for example an army barracks, then also being recorded for a second time, at a second location, because the census was completed in a literal sense of “who was actually at the house” on the night the census was taken. 

Military or naval bases would be typical examples of this, as would the workhouse, prisons, asylums and hospitals. Because these institutions would have had vast amounts of entries to make, they were issued with their own special schedules that closely resembled the enumerators books. The master of the institution was designated as an enumerator for this purpose and was responsible for sending the completed book to the Superintendent Registrar. This is why we see so many duplicate entries like this. The following two examples from Liz and Marian are perfect examples of this.

Liz Lloyd shared with us a classic example with her great-uncle Linferd Ware who is recorded in the 1901 Census once in Brunswick Square in Southampton with his wife, he is recorded here as a musician and ship steward and he is also recorded for a second time as a steward on the steamship Erin lying off Hythe in Southampton water. Liz decided to look further into the history of the steamship Erin and found out that at the time it belonged to Sir Thomas Lipton who also owned the Shamrock II, one of the entries in the America’s Cup. Linferd would have been aboard the Erin when it towed the Shamrock II to New York. Would Liz have found out all this additional information if she had accepted the first census entry at face value and not looked into the details of the second entry as well?

Marian Burk Wood husband's 2 x great-grandmother, Mary Shehen was enumerated twice in the 1871 Census. She's listed at home with her husband, John, living in Grays Buildings, Marylebone, London. Her occupation is recorded as a laundress and her birthplace Ireland. However, Mary was not actually at home for the 1871 Census. Weeks earlier, she had been admitted to the medical wing of the St. Marylebone Workhouse on Northumberland Street North, suffering from "chronic rheumatism". She's enumerated here, too, in the 1871 Census, occupation laundress, birthplace Ireland. Workhouse records indicate Mary remained there for a month, so it's very unlikely that she was really home with her husband when the census took place. We can only imagine that John missed his wife, so therefore it's not surprising he would tell the census enumerator that Mary lived with him in Grays Buildings, which was her usual place of residence.

Claire Santry has sent me this really interesting duplicate entry for her husband's great-grandmother and her sister, who were recorded twice in the 1901 Census: once at their mother's home and once at the sister's home. Maud Colgate nee Thomas and Emma Ward nee Thomas were recorded at the home of their mother Sarah Thomas at 21Prospect Place, Maidstone, Kent and recorded again at 116 Milton Road, Maidstone, Kent at the home of Emma and her husband Allan. This becomes really interesting because there is no real logical explanation for this, it certainly isn’t an enumerator error. This is one of those family history anomalies that we will never know the real answer to. Maybe they were living between the two addresses or maybe those that completed the forms just misunderstood what was required?

Enumerator error?

Ann Donnelly has sent me not one, but two examples of double census entries on her tree. The first is her aunt and uncle, Harold B Causey and Elizabeth Causey, who were enumerated twice in the 1940 US census. In both cases and on both pages, they are recorded as living at the same address, but one entry is on page 14 and the other on page 16. This looks to be a classic case of an enumerator error, which probably occurred when transferring over the field notes onto the return schedules. The same enumerator recorded both entries. 

Enumerator error is always a possibility to consider...

Although rare, there were many instances of transcription errors by the enumerators themselves. The second double entry was for Mary Donnelly, born in 1883, who was enumerated twice in the NYC 1890 census, once with her parents and once with her grandparents. This looks like a simple case of her staying with her grandparents on census night and therefore recorded here and then recorded again "at home”, her normal place of residence. Examples like this can lead to some really good breakthroughs. People staying with extended families can help to identify new lines of research and connections that might have been difficult to find, had it not been for a duplicate entry like this.

Joanna Heath uncovered another typical example and explanation for a duplicate entry on her tree. Kessiah Parker born 1839 is living with her mother Sarah and her grandmother, also Kessiah Parker, on the 1851 Census in Annesley, Nottinghamshire. In the same census in Annesley, she is living with her Aunt Martha Osborne nee Parker and her husband Luke ,plus various children. On this census she is described as a cousin. 

The most likely explanation for this is that she was helping out at her aunt’s house. This was not an unusual occurrence; many families with young children utilised the services of older female members of their extended family to help out around the house. This of course was a good grounding in the roles of the domestic servant and many young teenage girls were employed as domestic servants at this time.

Complicated living arrangements

We finish with one more example from Harry Dixon from Cumbria, who has an interesting example and there is probably a bit more to this story than we will discover just from a census return! Harry sent me a duplicate entry for his wife’s 2 x great-grandfather, Henry Wyatt (1809-1899) who not only appeared twice on the 1861 census, but he was not married to either of the two women he was supposed to be living with! On one entry he is living with Sarah Wyatt and a son Edwin at 4, Denbigh Villas, Kensington and on the other he is with Johana Wyatt and a daughter Clara, at 7, Grove Terrace, Marylebone.

At the time of the 1861 Census, Henry was legally married to a lady named Octavia Sarah Moore de Belleven. However, between 1841 and 1846 he had four children with Sarah Aubrey (Wyatt), whom he never married and between 1853 and 1871 he had nine children with Joanne (Johana) Barlow (Wyatt), who he married in 1866. Octavia Sarah went on to have two bigamous marriages both in 1847 and it is believed she was eventually transported to Australia in 1850 under her "real" name of Mary Anson, having been tried at the Central Criminal Court for theft, but that’s a whole different story…

These are just a few examples of why your ancestor might be recorded in the census twice, but as you can see, you can discover a lot more hidden below the surface if you dig a little deeper and try to ‘make sense of it all’ and find out why your ancestor might be recorded twice on the census.

Find Paul Chiddicks on Twitter @chiddickstree. Visit his website.

Originally published January 2022. Reviewed August 2022.