Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Genealogy Bytes: The 1911 Census

One of my passions is genealogy and family history (years ago, I had a bumper sticker that said "Genealogy is my hobby. I collect ancestors."). I started working on my own family history twenty-five years ago, just after my Nana had passed away. I realized how her death had taken a tremendous part of our family's history with her, and I started reclaiming it. The Internet has transformed the way we do genealogical research. I have connected with distant relatives that I never thought I would know. I've even become great friends with my fifth cousin HA in England, who I met through email. She has managed to take our linked line of the family back to the 1500s (they're all Lancashire stock, through and through). But the Internet also has made doing research much easier with the availability of online indexes and digital archives. Just this week, the British National Archives released 80% of the 1911 Census for England and Wales with transcriptions and digital scans of the handwritten registers of British residents at the time. The UK has had an official government census in effect every ten years since 1801. Digitized versions of records are now available online from 1841 on. Because the UK has a 100-year privacy law, however, they are only now releasing the 1911 census. This contrasts with the US where our 75-year privacy laws means our government already has released the 1930 Census. Mind you, these records are not free to look at online. You have to buy subscriptions to companies or agencies to look at these things. That said, it's worth it.

Naturally, when I heard about the 1911 census, I couldn't resist, so I bought a number of credits and I started doing some searching. I found very quickly my widowed great-great-grandfather Charles Ambrose who was living in Birkdale with his niece/housekeeper Dinah Turner and his grandson Ambrose Wright. There weren't too many surprises there. Everything was in order, including the same house they had lived in for some time (which still exists, by the way). I did a few other searches on Ambrose Wright's family, but I wasn't having any luck finding his father or sisters (his mother had died in 1898). I need to do some more searching, but I suspect at this point that they may not have bothered filling out the census, which as you can see now makes this researcher very frustrated a century later.

I decided then to take a peak at some other relatives that should have been there. My maternal great-grandmother came from England in 1881 with her siblings, parents, and (Scottish) grandmother. The only one in her immediate family who remained in England was her elder sister Mary Alice Bagge, who had recently married John E. A. Eaton. Together they ran a pub and inn, and they had a few children. I had been able to find them near Manchester in other censuses, but in looking at the 1911 census, I discovered that Mary Alice had died a short time beforehand. However, the new census record told me that her husband was still around, running a pub in Ancoats near Manchester, and he was assisted by four children. Suddenly, I realized that their eldest child, John Edwin Eaton, had had his name crossed off the census. I read through all the scratch marks, and imagine my surprise when I discovered that it said he was in America! So my great-grandmother's nephew had come over from England as well, which is something none of us knew about.

John Edwin Eaton would have had to go through Ellis Island to get into the US, so I switched over to the Ellis Island website where you can search--for free!--ship manifests for everyone who came through Ellis Island. It turned out to be easier than I suspected. John Edwin Eaton first came to New York in 1904 with $32 in his pocket. He was 20 years old and an engineer. The best part was that he was on his way to meet his uncle George Bagge in New York City. They even gave his street address, which I had on file already. It was the work address for Neville & Bagge, an architectural firm that my great-grandmother's brother ran with a partner building homes for New Yorkers. John went back to England a few months later, but he was apparently determined to move to the States for good. He arrived in New York on July 5, 1905, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool on what was then a brand new ship, the R.M.S. Caronia. That, my readers, explains the photograph of the ship above. Yes, that is the Caronia, the ship on which my first cousin twice removed arrived back in 1905. (The image comes from a fantastic online site,

I found another listing for him at a later date, at which point he is married and a naturalized citizen living in the Bronx. As you can see, I have much more research to do on this cousin of mine. Hopefully this little story has entertained or intrigued you a bit. If it has, then start searching. You'd be amazed at the history you can find out about your family.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

It's nice to see I'm not alone in my excitement over the 1911 census!