Essential Reading

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Scottish Census 1851

Ten Things You May Not Know About the 1851 Census for Scotland

[This article was first published in the now obsolete Discover My Past Scotland 2009]

In 1851, Scotland was still four years short of adopting Civil Registration – the system of registering births, marriages and deaths that had been used in England and Wales since 1837. In the absence of such a system, the 1851 census - taken on the night of 30th /31st March 1851 - can be of real value in helping you to find out more about your Scottish ancestors in the middle of the nineteenth century. Sometimes, indeed, this census sometimes picks up people whose births or marriages may not have been recorded in the parish registers.

How can I access the 1851 census?

You can access the 1851 census for Scotland and search for your ancestors at the following websites. Some of these are free sites, at others you will have to pay to view the entries.

If you wish to view the original census enumerators’ books, you must visit the General Register Office (Scotland) New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1, 3YT.

1. A Gateway to the Past

From the 1851 census, you should be able to find out exactly where your ancestor was born. The schedule asked respondents to state the actual county and parish or town of their birth (rather than simply to state whether they had or had not been born in the county where they were now living, as the 1841 census had done). This means that this mid-century census is a real gateway to the past; once you know where your ancestor was born, you can go on to search the Old Parish Records for the record of his or her baptism.

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

2. What The Enumerator Thought 

There is a space allotted in the 1851 census schedules for the enumerator to make his own comments. If he was astute and interested in his task, he may have noted aspects of life in the locality in which your ancestors lived such as housing conditions, changes in farming methods, or the fact that many people had emigrated from the area. Unfortunately, the spaces for comments are not always filled in. But where they are, they can provide fascinating demographic commentary that may not be available from any other source. Be aware that this information is not always available to view on the online version of the 1851 census but it can be seen on the original documents.

3. Who Was Who

The 1851 census was the first to record the marital status of each person in your ancestor’s household and his or her relationship to the head of the household. This means that you should make fewer mistakes in your searching. It is less easy, for example, to confuse sons with grandsons or with cousins when you find people with similar names living at the same address.

4.  Disability

In 1851, the census schedule notes whether an occupant of a house was blind, deaf or dumb. This information was not required ten years later in the census of 1861, but the question was put back in again in later censuses. Be careful to read too much into what is recorded here, however. You may find that personal information given in this census contradicts information given in later censuses -  some people may not have wanted the disabilities of their family members recorded on one occasion or the other.

5.  Just How Old Were They?

For the first time on a British census, each individual's exact age was recorded on the 1851 census (to the nearest year). This replaced the former method of rounding adult ages down to the nearest five years. So with this census, you can get a clearer picture of the age relationships between your ancestors – something which will help you better to understand the dynamics of their household. You will, for example, be able to answer questions such as exactly how much younger your great-grandfather was than the brother who may have gone on to inherit a family property; or exactly how old your great-aunt must have been when she had each of her seven children.

6. Master or Trainee?

Much greater detail was asked about people's occupations in the 1851 census than in the census of ten years earlier. From the information collected, the government were able to analyse occupations into ‘classes’ and ‘sub-classes’. Masters in trade and manufacture were asked to state the word ‘master’ after the description of their occupation and to state the number of men employed on the day of the census.

7. Not Quite a Royal Residency

At the time of the 1851 census, Queen Victoria was negotiating her purchase of the fifteenth-century Balmoral castle in Aberdeenshire.  She had first stayed there in 1848 when she and Prince Albert had rented the property (from the trustees of Sir Robert Gordon, the previous owner). Though not resident in Scotland at the exact time of the census, she paid a visit in September 1851 and described a day’s hunting in which ‘Albert got a splendid stag.’ The Queen said that the area reminded her of Italy with the mountains ‘quite crimson and lilac and everything glowing with the setting sun.’ On the night of the 1851 census, the Balmoral estate was occupied by servants, gamekeepers and garden labourers including Francois d’Albertanson, aged 62, house steward, born in Flanders, his wife and four children. In 1852, Victoria and Albert bought the Balmoral property for £30,000. They set about building a new castle just a hundred yards from the original. This was completed in 1856.

8. Where did they worship?

The 1851 census was unusual in that it was accompanied by a religious census – the only one of its kind until the twenty-first century. This census assumed that everyone was Christian but asked people to state which denomination they were (e.g. Catholic, Methodist or Presbyterian). Unfortunately, you will not be able to find out about your own family’s religious beliefs. Rather than asking individuals where they worshipped, enumerators sought out every church, chapel or room used for religious worship in their designated area. A printed form was then given to the person in charge (usually the minister). This asked how many people attended the service on 30th March 1851.

The religious census was not compulsory and the return rate of printed forms was very poor. In Scotland, the return rate was even worse than it was in England or Wales. As a result, the government report for Scotland was much shorter and less detailed  than that for other parts of Britain. Although it was suggested that the exercise be repeated in 1861, the various denominations could not agree what form it should take and the plans were dropped.

9. A Prelude to Emigration

Emigration from Scotland to America peaked in the mid nineteenth century. Five million Americans can trace their ancestry back to residents of Victorian Scotland mentioned in the 1851 census. If your ancestors emigrated from Scotland to Australia in the nineteenth century, the 1851 census might well be the last British census in which they appear. The Highland and Island Emigration Society operated from 1851-1859 and was run by private subscription to assist emigration to Australia. You can view the passenger lists for people leaving Scotland between 1852 and 1857 at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS ref HD4/5). The index to this is searchable on line at Scottish Archive Network

10. No Trace of Your Ancestor? 

If you can’t find your ancestors on the 1851 census, it’s just possible that this is because they were living in one of the few parishes for which the original records have been lost. The following is a list of parishes (with their parish numbers and counties) that are known to be missing.

Parish Number
Parish Name
Abbey (Paisley)
Corsock Bridge

Useful Websites - general information on the 1851 religious census.  Information on the 1851 religious census with particular reference to Scotland. National Archives of Scotland Emigration Records

Keywords: European ancestors, Europe,  ancestry, family history, genealogy, Scotland, Scottish, census, emigration

No comments:

Post a comment