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.