The Enumerator Strikes Back

The meeting held on Saturday 7th August had David Annal as our guest speaker. David has been involved in family history for over 30 years. He was a Principal Family History Specialist for the National Archives and has written a number of books on the subject as well as contributed articles for the Family Tree Magazine.

The first census in England was held in 1801 and has been carried out every ten years except for 1941. There was opposition at first, being thought an infringement of individual liberties.

The first enumerators were the Overseers and Parish Clerks who were hired on a temporary basis and paid to collect information on a statistical basis. That meant that up to 1831 only the place and number per household were noted plus whether they were male or female and number of. No names were noted.

David illustrated his talk with samples of documents and cartoons by artists who reported on the work of the enumerators and the difficulties they faced. He also displayed a section of from an 1821 census return that had information on one branch of his ancestors living on the isle of Rothesay.

By 1841 the address, name, age and occupation were collected. The idea was for the government could see if the population was increasing. The enumerator had to call on each household in a prescribed district and request the head of the household to complete a form with required information. If the householder was illiterate, then the enumerator would complete the task. The enumerators were all male, initially, and were drawn from the middle classes. Women could be enumerators by 1891.

There was often opposition by the public and enumerators would sometimes face abuse. They also had to report anyone who failed or refused to provide information. If this occurred, then a householder could be fined! Further opposition came in 1911 when a campaign on behalf of women claimed ‘No Vote, No Census.’ Enumerators would also often complain because they felt they were being overworked for little reward. There were also problems in collecting information on those people living on the edge of society such as travelers, boat people and those sleeping rough. Even the information written on the forms such as occupation would be open to question eg prostitute’ or ‘one who co-habits with a man.’

David concluded by highlighting the hard work done by enumerators in the past and to those today for the data collected which has to be processed for the government.

The next meeting is September 4th when Gillian Waters will give an’ Introduction on Medieval Genealogy.’