Can you solve my 1871 cen­sus co­nun­drum?

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - QUESTIONS & ANSWERS -

QI was won­der­ing if you could help me solve the puz­zle of my great grand­fa­ther, Wil­liam James Ben­nett, who twice ap­pears on the 1871 cen­sus.

Wil­liam’s fa­ther, James Ben­nett, was in the Royal Navy and had signed up for ten years, but bought him­self out af­ter six – pre­sum­ably when he met my great great grand­mother Har­ri­ett Black­more in Chudleigh, Devon. The cou­ple mar­ried in 1866, with James’ ad­dress given as St Bride, Lon­don, and Har­riet’s ad­dress as Chudleigh. In the oc­cu­pa­tion col­umn, James is listed as a fire­man.

On Wil­liam’s birth cer­tifi­cate in 1867, his birth­place is recorded as Ex­eter Road, Chudleigh. His mother gave her ad­dress as Lon­don and his fa­ther again gave his oc­cu­pa­tion as fire­man. The bap­tism also took place in Chudleigh.

Wil­liam next ap­pears on the 1871 cen­sus in two sep­a­rate lo­ca­tions. As well as be­ing listed with his mother and fa­ther at Too­ley Street Fire Sta­tion, Lon­don, Wil­liam is also recorded with his grand­par­ents James and Su­san Black­more in Chudleigh. Af­ter this he ap­pears on their cen­sus forms and doesn’t go back to live with his par­ents.

James and Har­riet went on to have more chil­dren, all born and liv­ing in Lon­don. Why did Wil­liam not re­turn? He­len Mar­riott

AThere are a num­ber of ex­am­ples of in­di­vid­u­als be­ing recorded on a cen­sus at two sep­a­rate ad­dresses. Given trans­porta­tion in 1871, Wil­liam James could not have been in both Devon and Lon­don on the cen­sus night of Sun­day 2 April. Although the cen­sus should have recorded the names of those at a given ad­dress on cen­sus night, fam­i­lies of­ten misun­der­stood and be­lieved it to be a record of all their chil­dren/fam­ily mem­bers. Thus, the name of an ab­sent child could be listed in er­ror.

Fur­ther­more, the enu­mer­a­tors de­liv­ered the sched­ule a week be­fore and col­lected it on Mon­day 3 April. If Wil­liam had been present dur­ing the week, this could have caused con­fu­sion. The sum­mary ta­bles for the enu­mer­a­tors’ books on this cen­sus in­clude males and fe­males tem­po­rar­ily ab­sent. Per­haps Wil­liam was con­sid­ered tem­po­rar­ily ab­sent but recorded present by mis­take.

Although Wil­liam was not recorded on later cen­sus forms in Lon­don, he may still have spent time there. If he did re­main in Devon, there may have been eco­nomic or health rea­sons for him stay­ing with his grand­par­ents. Wil­liam’s par­ents were around 23 years of age when he was born, which is rel­a­tively young. James would have been fully oc­cu­pied by his new job in an area with which (it seems) he and his wife were not fa­mil­iar.

Too­ley Street was a busy street in South­wark close to the River Thames – an area full of wharves, ware­houses and the colour­ful char­ac­ters that in­hab­ited them. This may have in­tim­i­dated the young Ben­netts and they may have de­cided that Wil­liam was safer with his agri­cul­tural labourer grand­par­ents and his un­cles.

If he or his mother had any health prob­lems, it may have been eas­ier for him to re­main in Devon with a large fam­ily and wider com­mu­nity to sup­port him. It may be worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing school ad­mis­sion reg­is­ters (Find­my­past for Devon and An­ces­try for Lon­don), as this might re­veal how much time he spent with his par­ents in this pe­riod. Emma Jolly

Wil­liam recorded with grand­par­ents in Devon (above) and with par­ents in Lon­don (be­low)

Wil­liam James Ben­nett had roots in both Devon, the place of his birth, and Lon­don

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