Ryan Taylor Tips for using the 1901 British census
1901 British census


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By Ryan Taylor

The disaster which struck the online 1901 British census only hours after it was brought up earlier this year is edging its way toward being fixed. At the moment, the site is up and working, but in a test mode, so it is only temporary.

It is functioning only during London office hours, 7:00 to 17:00 GMT (2:00-12 noon EDT). The charges are all in place, so have your credit card ready. The charges are minimal (75p or 50p per image) and there is a minimum charge of 5. A session lasts 48 hours, and you can leave it and come back during that time. In fact, the set-up seems to be functioning well, at least when I was on it.

Remember that, unlike the familiar census indexes available from the LDS, the British index does not combine variant spellings of names. This is a real difficulty when dealing with a name such as 'Hewitt' as I was. There are so many variants used by the census takers, that I tried about eight combinations for my ancestor Frederick Hewitt, but he never showed up. Only when I searched for his wife did I find them, and her name was also a problem. She is listed as 'Easter' in most documents, but for the first time shows up as 'Esther' in the 1901 census.

The possibilities offered by this kind of national, online index were immediately apparent to me. I went looking for Susannah Taylor, an ancestor's sister who had married a first cousin. In the 1891 census, they had moved away from home (he was a fisherman, so the whole coast of Britain was open to them). By 1901, who knew where they would be?

Susannah showed up in the farthest reaches of northern England, widowed and with a small daughter. I would never have found her without this easy-access index.

As for my great-uncle Sam, he had already gone to London in 1901, but the index produced him, too, out of the millions in that big city. His sister Ethel is elusive as yet, which means her name is misspelled, or perhaps she's masquerading somewhere. I know I'll find her eventually, once I try Tailor and Tayler as well as Taylor. It's hard to see how the census taker could make a mistake with 'Ethel', however.

Sam is living with relations of his step-grandmother, Easter, proving once more that when people migrate, there's a good chance you'll find them living with someone they knew from home.

Be creative in your searching if your first try doesn't work, and be sure to read the lengthy instructions before starting.

Column copyright © 2002 Ryan Taylor


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