Your Family History - - Expert Q&A: -

QI was won­der­ing if you could help me solve the puz­zle of my great-grand­dad, Wil­liam James Ben­nett, ap­pear­ing twice on the 1871 cen­sus.

His fa­ther, James Ben­nett, was in the Royal Navy and had signed up for ten years. How­ever, he bought him­self out af­ter six years, pre­sum­ably when he met my great-great-

nan Har­ri­ett Black­more in Chudleigh, Devon. They mar­ried in 1866. On their mar­riage cer­tifi­cate, it was stated that his ad­dress was St Bride, Lon­don, and that he was a fire­man. Her ad­dress was given as Chudleigh, Devon. They mar­ried in Lon­don, but great-grand­dad was born in Chudleigh in 1867, his mother gave her ad­dress as Lon­don, and his fa­ther’s oc­cu­pa­tion as a fire­man. He was also chris­tened in Chudleigh.

The next record I have for him is the 1871 cen­sus. On the one with his mother and fa­ther, he is liv­ing at the Too­ley Street Fire Sta­tion in Lon­don; but then, on the cen­sus form for his grand­par­ents, James and Su­san Black­more, for Devon, he also ap­pears as their grand­son. Af­ter this, he ap­pears on their cen­sus forms, and doesn’t go back with his par­ents. They went on to have more chil­dren, all of whom were born and liv­ing in Lon­don.

On the cen­sus for 1911, when he is mar­ried to my great-nan, he gives his place of birth as Chudleigh, Devon. On the 1939 Reg­is­ter, he gives his full date of birth as 23 Septem­ber 1867, which is the same date as the child of Har­ri­ett and James Ben­nett. I can only find one birth reg­is­tered for the name Wil­liam James Ben­nett in Chudleigh around that time. Hope you can help with this. HE­LEN MAR­RIOTT, VIA EMAIL

ASome­times, we can tie our­selves in knots try­ing to un­ravel our fam­ily his­tory, and in the process, make it more com­pli­cated than it is, for the an­swers to our fam­ily mys­ter­ies can be sim­pler than we think. In your case, I think you’ve started from the as­sump­tion that there is a mys­tery, or that there are two in­di­vid­u­als with the same name – when ac­tu­ally, I sus­pect it’s sim­ply two house­holds record­ing the same per­son, when they shouldn’t have done.

For the cen­sus, you were sup­posed to record the in­di­vid­u­als who were at that ad­dress on cen­sus night – which in 1871 was the night of 2 April – so if you were usu­ally a fam­ily of four, but one of you wasn’t at home

Some­times, we can tie our­selves in knots try­ing to un­ravel our fam­ily his­tory, and in the process, make it more com­pli­cated than it is

on that night, you shouldn’t record him or her, and they should in­stead be recorded at the ad­dress where they were at that time. Hence the fre­quent record­ing of vis­i­tors within a house­hold. How­ever, some fam­i­lies did get con­fused about how they were sup­posed to record fam­i­lies, and some fam­i­lies did not want members omit­ted even if they weren’t phys­i­cally present at that time.

The orig­i­nal cen­sus doc­u­ments would have been given to the head of house­hold sev­eral days prior to the cen­sus date, how­ever, and he or she would have filled in the de­tails of any­one at their ad­dress on that night. So an al­ter­na­tive rea­son for your great-grand­dad’s en­try on two dif­fer­ent forms might be that he was at the one ad­dress when that head of house­hold was fill­ing in the form, but at the other’s when they were com­plet­ing their form!

How­ever, what I think was more likely in this case is that Wil­liam’s par­ents have recorded him as part of their house­hold be­cause he was their son, a mem­ber of their fam­ily, and so felt they should record him; but that on cen­sus night, he was ac­tu­ally stay­ing with his grand­par­ents, and so they also, cor­rectly, recorded him as be­ing part of their house­hold.

It looks as though his grand­par­ents took an ac­tive role in his up­bring­ing, and he may well have been with them on a long-term ba­sis, but this does not mean his par­ents for­got he was part of their fam­ily!

I don’t know how many sib­lings he had, but if he was part of a large fam­ily, in par­tic­u­lar, it would have been per­fectly nor­mal for one or more child to be looked af­ter by grand­par­ents, mak­ing life a bit eas­ier for the busy par­ents.


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