The Census Enumerators' Books

Contents

These notes are intended as a brief introduction to the Census Enumerators' Books (CEBs) and of their values to sociologists and others with an interest in studying nineteenth-century censuses. The notes are illustrated with various examples drawn from the writer's researches into nineteenth-century Warrington and Hanley.

A) The Census

Beginning in 1801, and excepting 1941, a census has been held in Britain every ten years. The first four censuses were little more than simple head counts of the population. In 1841 the first modern census was held. Each householder was required to complete a census schedule giving the address of the household, the names, ages, sexes, occupations and places of birth of each individual residing in his or her accommodation. In 1851 householders were asked to give more precise details of the places of birth of each resident, to state their relationships to him or her, marital statuses and the nature of any disabilities from which they may have suffered. Apart from a few minor changes the basic structure of the census schedule did not change until 1891. Householders were then asked how many rooms (if less then five) their family occupied. Additional occupational data was collected and, in Wales, people were asked to say if they spoke the Welsh language.

After being collected by enumerators the census schedules were copied into census enumerators' books (CEBs). The CEBs were then sent to London where census clerks used them to compute various local and national statistics. Although the original census schedules have long been since destroyed the CEBs were kept. After being locked away for 100 hundred years the CEBs are made public and we consider in this paper their usefulness in studying nineteenth-century society.

Figures 1: An Example of A Household in Tunstall 1841

WESLEY STREET  

1 THOMAS WILKINSON M 45 JOURNEYMAN POTTER STA 2 ANN WILKINSON F 45 STA 3 DELICIA SMITH F 70 INDEPENDENT STA 4 MARY HANCOCK F 15 STA 5 JOSEPH WILKINSON M 25 TAILOR JOURNEYMAN STA 6 PHOEBE WILKINSON F 3 STA

Figures 2: An Example of A Household in Warrington 1881

CROSSLEY STREET

1 1 THOMAS ARCHER M 46 Mar Head LICENCED VICTUALLER BIRMINGHAM STA 1 2 EMMA ARCHER F 51 Mar Wife BIRMINGHAM STA 1 3 CHARLES ARCHER M 19 Unm Son PUPIL TEACHER WARRINGTON LAN 1 4 GEORGE ARCHER M 15 Bla Son PRINTER'S COMPOSITOR WARRINGTON LAN 1 5 MARY ANN ARCHER F 13 Bla Daug WARRINGTON LAN 1 6 FREDERICK ARCHER M 8 Bla Son WARRINGTON LAN 1 7 JAMES THOMAS M 41 Wid Lodg TELEGRAPH CLERK WARRINGTON LAN

TOP

B) Accuracy of the CEBs

In this section we look at the problems facing the researcher in using the CEBs.

1) Illiteracy. Unfortunately the Victorian censuses were undertaken at a time when up to half the adult population were illiterate or semi-illiterate. Many householders would, therefore, have found it difficult to read and interpret the instructions, and this would have led them to give inaccurate and incomplete information. moreover, it seems likely that, because of poor spelling and poor presentation, enumerators would have found it difficult to read some of their census schedules. This, in turn, would have led to transcription errors.

2) Reading the CEBs. The first problem relates to reading the census enumerator's books. The 1841 CEBs were completed in pencil and cheap ink was often used to complete the CEBs in later censuses. Consequently the CEBs can be difficult to read, the more so where, as often happens, the researcher is using microfilm copies or photocopies of the original books.

3) Addresses. Identifying individual addresses is often a problem. In towns few houses were numbered until the end of the nineteenth century, and in some places street names and house numbers were subject to periodic revision. In rural areas addresses are often rather vague or not given at all.

4) Number of Rooms. Unfortunately of the CEBs made public only those for 1891 give information on the numbers of rooms occupied by each household so it is not possible to comment on the accuracy of this information. It should, however, be mentioned that no instructions were given on the census schedule as to what was a room. Were, for example, large cupboards or indoor toilets to be counted as rooms? One example, of an enumerator misinterpreting his instructions has been found by the writer in his researches into nineteenth-century Warrington. The enumerator having placed the figure '1' (one) against the address of each householder whose family occupied fewer than five rooms. At least one street enumerated by him, still stands today, and it consists of four-roomed terraces.

5) Definition of a Household. Another problem is that of what constituted a household. The instructions given to the enumerators were vague. This has affected in particular how lodgers, boarders and different families renting rooms in the same houses have been enumerated. In some instances families of lodgers appear to have been treated as occupiers in their right. On other occasions families co-residing at the same address have been treated as lodgers. The extent of this problem is difficult to quantify. But, because there were few complex (i.e. non-nuclear) households in nineteenth-century Britain, it is unlikely to be a serious problem.

6) People's Names. Few problems exist relating to people's names although it should be mentioned that the spelling of surnames only gradually became standardised after 1837 with the state registration of births, marriages and deaths. When attempting to link households and families across censuses this can create problems but a little imagination can usually sort them out. Houghton, for example, might become Houghton or Oughton. A case in point is that of the Elisons of Eydon's Yard, in 1881, who became the Alisons of Aydon's Yard in 1891!

7) Relationships. Interpreting relationships is usually straight forward but problems can arise in identifying stepchildren, the parents of grandchildren, and relationships among lodgers, boarders and visitors.

8) Marital Status. Marital statuses do not usually pose problems. It is, however, rarely possible to identify second marriages from the nineteenth-century CEBs, and cases of co-habitation have usually to be inferred from relationships such as 'servant', 'lodger' and 'visitor,.

9) Gender. Occasionally enumerators wrote a person's age in the wrong sex column, but such errors are easy to identify.

10) Ages. Especially in the early years of last century many people did not know their correct ages, and for older people age-data should, therefore, be treated with some caution. Moreover, at a time when the age of consent was 21 householders below this age often had an incentive to falsify their ages in order to rent accommodation and enter into legally-binding contracts. Similarly the ages of child workers appear on occasion to have been falsified to circumvent the various factory ages. Charles Shaw, for example, born in Tunstall in 1832 is shown as a eleven-year potter in the 1841 census. Anderson's (1972: 75) examined the accuracy of age data by linking individuals across censuses. He concluded that age data is fairly accurate and those errors he found tended to be small.

11) Occupations. A number of problems exist in interpreting the occupational data: a) job titles are sometimes vague with little or no information given on either the industry of employment or the actual job undertaken (in nineteenth-century Warrington, for example, a 'cutter, might be a 'glass cutter', a 'fustian cutter' or a 'file cutter'); b) it is often to distinguish between dealers and makers (e.g. did a baker bake or sell bread?); and c) although people were asked to say how many people - if any - they employed it is often difficult to distinguish employers from the self-employed and employees. For example, in the Hanley CEBs, for 1881, the writer classified a 'builder' as a manual worker only to find on examination of the rate book that he owned several houses having presumably employed other people to build them for him. More fundamental problems exist in using occupational data for women and children. Higgs (1987) believes that the occupations of many women, and especially of those in part-time work and/or working at home, were not recorded in the census. Again, aggregate census statistics published in the 1841 and 1851 Census Volumes for those areas covered by the reports of the various Children's Employment Commissions suggest that the occupations of children were often under-enumerated.

12) Birth places. Anderson (1972: 75) looked at the consistency of birth place data in Preston in the 1851 and 1861 censuses. He found discrepancies to exist in roughly 14% of cases, but in half these cases the discrepancies tended to be insignificant. one discrepancy found by the writer concerned a women shown as born in 'Ireland' in the 1881 census and 'At Sea' in the 1891 census.

13) Medical Disabilities. The least accurate data collected was the information sought on disabilities. The question was poorly worded and the replies given are often of little use. Higgs (1989: 76) quotes a study in Wales in which replies to this question included 'unhealthy from birth', 'helpless' and 'not well'. Many householders appear to have been reluctant to admit that a member of their family was an 'idiot' and when this description was changed to 'feeble-minded' in 1901 the numbers recorded as mentally ill rose markedly (Higgs, 1989: 75).

TOP

C) Where the CEBs can be Viewed.

Copies of the CEBs on either micro-film or micro-fiche can be viewed in a number of places:-

It should added that the Mormons in co-operation with the Federation of Family Historians, have recently transcribed the whole of the 1881 Census for Great Britain. Micro-fiche copies of these can be viewed at the above places, and a machine readable, CD ROM version the 1881 Census, will be available from the Data Archive at the University of Essex in the next year or so.

TOP

D) Using the CEBs in Sociological Research

Notwithstanding the various problems outlined above in using the census, the CEBs can, and have been used in the study of nineteenth-century society. The following provide fruitful areas of investigation for census studies.

1) Demography. Demographically the nineteenth-century censuses tell us a great deal about the age and sex structure of the population last century and about how it changed with time. The value of such data can be enhanced if used in concert with vital registration statistics. They do, for example, allow mortality rates to be calculated for specific groups of the population.

2) Migration Patterns. The CEBs can be used to trace the origins of people, but their use in migration studies is limited insofar as it is not possible to identify the routes taken by people in arriving at a given address. However, by looking at the birthplaces of children it is sometimes possible to trace migratory patterns. The returns of military barracks are particularly interesting in this respect because the birthplaces of the children of soldiers can be used to trace a regiment's movements across the globe. Motives for moving can be inferred from birth place and occupational data.

3) Spatial Distribution of Populations. The CEBs allow researchers to examine the spatial distribution of populations within towns and cities. That is the extent to which particular groups of people tended to cluster together in particular areas. The usefulness of the CEBs can be greatly enhanced in such studies if used in conjunction with other local sources such as rate books (which provide a rough measure of wealth) and trade directories which tend to identify the more affluent areas of Britain's nineteenth-century towns and cities.

4) Scofield (1990), for example, used the CEBs to examine, among other matters, the extent to which the Irish were concentrated in particular areas of Keighley in the nineteenth century.

5) Social Structure. One of the main uses of the census is that of studying the occupational and social structure of nineteenth-century Britain. To undertake such work the researcher must first code the occupational data. Because of the imprecise nature of much of the occupational data given in the CEBs Armstrong (1972) has argued in favour of coding the data using both: a) Booth's industrial classification, devised in the 1880s, which places individuals into 79 distinct groups which can be recombined into 11 industrial sectors; b) the Registrar General's 1951 social class schema. These schema's are widely used by historical sociologists and allow comparisons to be easily drawn between Britain's towns and cities. Both intragenerational and intergenerational occupational mobility can be examined by linking households and individuals across censuses. For example, John Smith's occupation in 1861 might be compared with those of his children in 1871.

6) Family and Household Structure. The CEBs provide the modern researcher with perhaps the only tool for studying household and family structure in Victorian times. Both Anderson and Dupree used the CEBs to look at household and family structure in Preston in 1851 and the Potteries in 1861. Among the subjects which they examined were: the predominant family type, household and family size, poverty and the life cycle, and the relationship between women's employment, household size and family type.

7) The Life Cycle. The CEBs provide the researcher with a number of ways of examining the life cycle. The easiest way to do this is to breakdown the population into simple quinquenial age groups and examine people's relationships to their heads of household. Both Anderson (1971) and Dupree (1981) examined the family life cycle by placing each family into one of seven distinct groups based upon the age of the mother and the economic status of the children. The changing structure of the household and family can also be examined by linking families and households across censuses.

8)Fertility. Fertility and completed family size have been studied by linking families and households across censuses and counting the total number offspring borne by women. At a time in which approximately one-in-seven children died before their first birthdays such a procedure is fraught with many problems but various statistical techniques can be used to overcome them. Garratt in her study of nineteenth century Keighley employed this approach to examine differences in the fertility of different groups of women.

E) The CEBs for Other Counties.

Even though most European nations undertook national censuses in the late nineteenth-century, CEBs are only available for a few counties, most notably Norway and Great Britain. This is because the CEBs have either been destroyed or lost. Most of those for Ireland were destroyed in a fire in the early 1920s, and most of those that survived the fire were deliberately destroyed, by order of the government, in the early 1940s.

TOP

Bibliography

Drake, M. et al. (1995) Getting Into Community History. Milton Keynes.
Higgs, E. (1989) Making Sense of the Census. London.
Higgs, E. (1996) A Clearer Sense of the Census. London.
Wrigley, E.A. (ed., 1966) English Historical Demography. London.
Wrigley, E.A. (ed., 1972) Nineteenth-Century Society. Cambridge.

TOP


David Alan Gatley
30th July 2000