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The Facts, Just the Facts

Originally printed in the Journal of the Victoria Genealogical Society, vol.25, #4, Dec 2002

By H.L. Armstrong

In July of 2001 I put the transcription of 1901 census of Victoria city and surrounding area on the BCGenWeb site. This work had taken just over one year to prepare and represents many hours of transcribing, entering data into a computer database, checking, re-checking and before finally seeing it on the internet. To assist the accuracy of the work many other resources were consulted. Deciphering hard to read or questionable entries was made easier by consulting directories, voters lists, on-line British Columbia birth, marriage and death registrations and newspaper notice indexes, the BC Cemetery Finding Aid, cemetery transcriptions and other on-line censuses. Also many biographical and local history books were also found to be helpful.

Rather than just using the found information and then discarding it after using it to decipher entries, I decided to add a remarks section to each entry and use this new material as a way of magnifying the usefulness of the census. This process has had a number interesting results in how to evaluate and trust records. To date approximately 10,000 of the 26,406 census entries have extra information in the remarks section. Many discrepancies have arisen and sometimes it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction or error.

The first problem was the way the census was taken. The census was supposed to be taken on information as it was at midnight between 31 March and 1 April 1901. However, while most enumerators started on the 1st of April, a number started two or three weeks late. Most of the enumerations were completed by the middle of May but one wasn�t finished until the 13th of June. The reasons it took so long was that emunerators paced themselves because they received 5 cents a name but there was a maximum that they could earn in any day. When they reached that limit they were finished for the day. Also many were busy business men who often didn�t reach their daily limit because of their regular jobs.

This resulted in many people being omitted because they had left town. In March and April there was a steady stream of miners, prospectors and merchants heading to the Yukon for the summer season. Others moved into an area that had been already enumerated and were missed. On the other hand many moved but ended up being enumerated twice. Several women married and have been found double enumerated under different surnames. In addition to the Yukon gold seekers there was a large number of men at sea with the sealing fleet � approximately 600 in over 40 schooners and steamers. The enumerator for the division that included Wharf Street must have been very disappointed when he walked up to the docks and there were no vessels. A sudden brain wave sent him into the shipping offices where he extracted information from the ship�s crew lists. Although the entries do not have dates of birth, religion and relation to the head of family they were still worth 5 cents each. Several people are on two ship lists. While many of the single mariners lived on board, many others had families and are also double enumerated.

One fellow, Evans Baker, is listed three times. Once with his wife and twice on crew lists, the Schooners Enterprise and Director. Oddly, one enumerator, Marcus Phipps, is not in the census.

Double entries of families provide an interesting comparison. The Edward McCoskrie family are listed twice. The first was in division C2, pg. 5, Gordon Head Rd, West was enumerated 10 Apr. The family surname was entered as McCoskrie.
Edw., 15 Dec 1851, 49, ENG, Sea Capt., widower
William, 7 Dec 1877, 23, NWT, Engineer
Annelissa, 18 Oct 1882, 18, NWT
Francis, 16 Oct 1887, 13, NWT
Phyliss, 22 May 1895, 5, BC
The second was in division 15, pg. 31, 56 2nd Lot Work Estate was enumerated 6 May.
The family surname was entered as McCoskie.

Edward, 15 Dec 1852, 48, ENG, Master mariner, married
Alice J., 7 Nov 1864, 36, ENG, married
William, 10 Oct 1877, 23, ON, Mariner
Annie, 16 Oct 1882, 18, ON
Frances, 22 May 1887, 13, ON
Phillice, 3 Jun 1886, 14, BC
George, 2 Nov 1889, 11, BC
Sarah, 19 Mar 1891, 9, BC
The surname is spelt incorrectly in the second grouping; the children�s name have various spellings; two children are listed once; and the dates of birth are quite scrambled � see Phyliss / Phillice (her birth registration indicates that she was born 22 May 1895). In April 1901 Edward was a widower but a newspaper accountant in the Victoria Daily Times of 3 April mentions that �Capt McCoskrie, bound for England, where he will marry Miss Tite� � �a missionary at Metlakatlah�. The death registration of Alice Jane McCoskrie in 1949 states that she is the daughter of William Tyte. Somehow she is listed in the family in 1901.

This family�s entries demonstrate several points. Spelling, ages, birth places, dates of birth and occupation titles can vary depending on who is giving the information. People can be omitted. People who may not be present (Annie J.) may be added. The spelling of surnames is particularly important to genealogists because it is one fact that we usually use when searching indexes. Among the duplicate entries a number of people have variations of their surnames such as: Burnet / Burnett; Dominey / Domminey; Finlason / Finlayson; MacDonald / McDonald; McAfee / McAfie and Sherborne / Sherburn. Given names also may present confusion. James Henry McIlmoyl is entered twice as James H. and Harry. Many are listed by their middle name in the census but by their first given name in most other records. Finally there are names that have variations that are used interchangeably (Ellen, Helen, Eleanor, Eleanora or Jane, Janet, Jean, Jennie).

Enumerators had a habit of miscalculating the year of birth. Comparing the year in the census to the registration year there are many that are one year out. This may be because the enumerators were only entering age and day and month of birth on the rough sheets to save writing and money for ink. They would then calculate, or miscalculate, the year when entering the information into the final sheets.

Late birth registrations also present problems. Many of these registrations seem to be obtained for the purpose of obtaining old age pensions and the applicants often seem to add a number of years to their age. Not only will the date on the late registration differ from the census but it will also differ from World War One attestation papers, marriage registration ages, dates of birth given on death registrations, newspaper birth announcements and even dates on tombstones.

The mariners listed from ship�s offices were among those who seemed to lie about their ages. Mariners over 40 years often subtracted years from their stated ages (probably to keep their jobs) but younger mariners would add several years (and exaggerate their experience). Marriage registrations are another place where ages are created. Ages may be inflated to pass the age of majority or to bring a persons age closer to the future spouses age. Ages are lowered for reasons of vanity. People who married twice, 20 years apart, may only age 12 years - but which age is fact?

The address that families lived at were entered into Schedules 2 (Buildings and lands) of the census and connected to Schedlue 1 (Population) only by page and line numbers. Enumerators made frequent errors and omissions that can attribute the wrong address to a family. To confirm addresses directories, voters lists or land records should be consulted.

Death registrations and cemetery monument inscriptions frequently have incorrect information because the informants did not know the deceased persons vital statistics. Newspaper reporters also make frequent mistakes with surnames, given names or place names dates or ages. In one rather long obituary the name Robertson was used in place of Robinson in several places; in another obituary Woodbridge, Ontario was written as Woodstock.

Genealogy is not an exact science. It would be ideal if all reported facts were correct and true but mistakes do occur and people do lie. The important thing for us to do is to record the information accurately and then use our best judgement to decide which record is correct (the coin landed heads up!) or to just accept the variations. > Hugh Armstrong's Genealogy Site Index