The most useful record that covers the broad term of “domestic living” is probably the census. In the UK these have been taken every ten years since 1801, though there is limited scope of usefulness for genealogists for the early decades of 1801-1831 with most of these not surviving. If they have survived they are likely to be just a head count at best.
The Census themselves is a snapshot of an existence, for individuals and the record tells us some useful information. The 1841 Census provided a name, age rounded to the nearest five years, so someone aged 43 would likely be recorded as 45. For place of birth, the question was recorded as born in the County Yes/No, and of course the address.
From 1851 the information was expanded to include the address where someone was living, how old they were, their marital status, their occupation, where they were born and if they were subject to any conditions, such as being deaf for example.
The 1911 Census expanded further again, to include how many years a couple had been married and how many children they had and how many were still living. The 1921 Census will be available in January 2022.
The 1931 Census was destroyed by fire and there was 1941 Census due to the second world war. The next Census is 1951 which will be available in 2055, unless there is a change in the legislation. The gap between 1931 and 1951 is addressed by the 1939 Register which is very valuable.
A census is a starting point for researching individuals and from there we can seek to locate information by asking the important questions of:
Who, What, Where, When, How and Why
In answering those questions, or at least attempting to, we unravel the lives of our ancestors. We establish what they did for work, where they lived, how old they were, who they lived with, when they lived where, what work they did when and so forth.
The question of how, though is much more subjective and requires us to look beyond the census document and to build a profile of their existence. In doing so, we can explore not just a wide variety of documents but materials in a wide variety of locations, not necessarily genealogical, with an equally wide scope. In some cases we can be creative of where we look and the questions we ask.
Here are some examples of where we can look:
- Online facilities – FamilySearch, Ancestry and FindmyPast
- Record Offices
- National Archives – (Kew) England & Wales, Scotland, United States, National Archives of Australia,
- County Archives –
- Local History Groups
- Family History Societies – Often these are per County or geographic area
- Devon Family History Society, Sussex Family History Group
- Specific Genealogical Societies
- Families in British India (FIBIS)
- Catholic Family History Society
- Anglo Italian FHS, Anglo German FHS, Italian Genealogy Group
- Guild of One-Name Studies
- Significant Genealogical Organisations
- Archaeological societies
- University Libraries
- Significant Libraries
- Collections based upon
- Religion – Quaker, Methodist Heritage
- Military & War
- Occupations – Mining in the North East (England)
- Banks – Bank of England (archive) Bank of England (museum) Bank of Canada Archives
- Shops and Retailers – Sainsbury’s
- Ethnicity – Chinese in Australia, Australian-China Story Indigenous Digital Archive
- Gardens & Heritage – Kew Gardens
- Holocaust (one of a great many)
- Irish Famine/Hunger
In the modern era, most will likely have a presence online and depending on their operational level, a catalogue. I have linked most of the examples here to at least one facility. I have tried to be global, but the point is be creative on your search and if you are working on a One-Name Study then you will most certainly be able to pass the time with the links here.
As you research you will be able to build a time line for the person you are seeking, starting with the basic records – births, marriages and deaths, moving through Census, military records. Be creative, you never know what material you will unearth. Happy searching!
Taking part in the A-Z Challenge for 2020
very interesting. thanks for sharing.
In Australia the historic census returns have mostly been destroyed 😦 I think the census provides a fascinating insight into households. Were they multigenerational? What occupations did a person and other household members have? Did they have servants, visitors, boarders, were they a servant in someone else’s house.
Absolutely, such a shame Australia don’t retain them.
In my database, I have recorded where I was on every census, as I am found in the UK until 1991 when I am in Australia. In 2001 I am married (but I married in Kenya) and Surrey, in 2011 I’m in a different part of the country. In 2021 I plan on being home, in another part of the country.
I do still have copies of the forms for the last two census.
In Quebec the censuses go back to 1666, with name, age and occupation of head of family, maiden name and age of wife, and names and ages of children. There are quite a few throughout the 1700s for different areas. Lucky for those of us that research there!
In the US we have 20 years from the time the census is taken to when it is released. A bit more, maybe 22 years. You have such a long time! I am waiting to see myself when the 1950 census is released soon.
That will be fun Kristin. We have 100 year rule.