The immigration of ancestors across the globe during the 1800’s and 1900’s meant descendants, in some cases, had little information about the families they left behind in their country of birth. While this adds an element of complexity to tracing your ancestors families, there is a wealth of information available to assist you in uncovering who your ancestors family were.
The census is one such research tool available to the keen genealogist to explore and track down their elusive ancestors.
The first census to be taken in England was at the time of William the Conqueror who in 1086 wanted a record of land ownership and livestock numbers. These early records can be found through History Magazine and is known as the Doomsday Book.
In 1801, the English government, unlike other governments across the United Kingdom, introduced the census for statistical purposes for the Overseers of the Poor and the Clergy. Every ten years following 1801 the census was undertaken and each time recorded more information on household composition.
In 1841, the information sought on households have gone onto provide genealogists with a goldmine of information to trace ancestors and their families across the United Kingdom. With a record of names, ages, gender, occupation, place of birth, and year of birth (often rounded up) in each household genealogists now have the ability to track down that elusive ancestor and gain greater knowledge of families and the lives they led.
By 1911 further details were recorded in the census, including how many children were born, how many were living or deceased at the time of the census and whether if any residents had a disability.
In this blog, Ancestor Detective, will go back to 1861 to trace the ancestors of Harold Downes. This exploration of census records will highlight the significance of these records and how much you can learn about your families and the lives they led.
Using the English Census to trace your ancestors
Harold Downes was born in 1894 in England and immigrated to and arrived in Australia on 18 March 1913 on board the ship “Orama”. After his early discharge from the Australian Imperial Force on 19 January 1916, Harold moved to Ouyen in the Victorian Mallee where he married Jean Fleming on 23 July 1924. After farming in the Mallee for some time and owning a dairy in Mildura, Harold and Jean moved to Dandenong where he became a poultry farmer. Harold died on 11 November 1963.
While Harold’s brothers also immigrated to Australia and outlived him, little was known about their family back in England. Using census records Ancestor Detective goes on a genealogy journey to trace Harold’s family in England.
The registration of Harold’s birth reveals that he was born on 12 December 1894 at Albion Street in Tamworth, Stafford to Daniel Downes and Eliza Roe. Using the names of Harold’s parents we searched Ancestry.com for the English census to trace Harold’s father, Daniel Downes, until his death in 1901.
We located the registration of Daniel’s birth at the UK General Registers Office, showing us that he was born on 11 July 1854 in Stafford, England to Abraham Downes, a shoemaker, and Mary Goodwin. In 1861 the English census was undertaken when Daniel would have been seven years of age. However, while his parents Abraham and Mary are recorded as living in Middlehills Street, Heathy Lee in Staffordshire. At the time of this census, Daniel was one of five children, yet on the day the census was recorded only Daniel’s younger brother, William was present. No record of Daniel’s whereabouts or his siblings on the day of the census has yet been found.
Ten years on in 1871, aged 17 years old, Daniel appears in the 1871 English census working as a farm laborer/servant in the Robinson family at Buck Bank farm in the township of Henbury in England.
By 1881, Daniel, aged 25 years, is married to his first wife, Eliza Foukes, and living at Hyde Hall in Lancashire. As a farm laborer, Daniel and Eliza have three children Ann Foukes (aged 5 years), Mary Jane (aged 3 years), and James William (aged 3 months). Six years later Eliza dies, aged 33 years, leaving Daniel to raise their three children alone.
By 1891, Daniel has remarried to Eliza Roe aged 22 years and they are living in Stonnall, Staffordshire with James William (aged 10 years) from his first marriage and Fred (aged 6 months). Daniel and Eliza would go on to have another four children by the 1901 census living at Cork Hall in Austrey. Employed as a banksman at a coal mine, Daniel, aged 47 years shortly after the 1901 census was recorded leaving Eliza, aged 33 years old, with five children aged under 10 years.
With five young children and no husband to support them by 1911 the children of Daniel and Eliza are split up. According to the 1911 census, both Fred (aged 20 years) and Edith (aged 10 years) are living with their older step brother James William in Staffordshire. Herbert then aged 18 years is living as a boarder while working in the coal mines in Burton Upon Trent in Derbyshire. Finding Harold and Arthur then aged 17 and 10 years in 1911 was more difficult and where they are living in 1911 is still a mystery to solve.
At the same time their mother, Eliza, has also disappeared from the census records of 1911 and it is not until her death in February 1923 in Staffordshire that she reappears.
In the years that follow 1911, all but younger Edith, immigrates to Australia where they live until their deaths.
Registration of Birth for Harold Downes, 20 December 1894, Reg. No. 1895/266, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.
SRO of Western Australia; Freemantle Outwards Sep 1900 – Dec 1915; Accession: 457; Item: 61; Roll: 157
Australia, WWI Service Records for Harold Downes, 1914-1920, Series B2455
Certificate of Marriage for Harold Downes and Jean Fleming, 23 July 1924, Reg. No. 8882, The Victorian Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Certified copy in possession of author.
Certificate of Death for Harold Downes, 11 November 1963, Reg. No. 23493/1963, The Victorian Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Certified copy in possession of author.
Registration of Birth for Daniel Downes, 11 July 1854, Reg. No. 1854/82, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.
1851 England Census, Heathy Lee Township, Staffordshire County, England; p. 3, family 17; Class: RG 9; Piece: 1949; Folio: 55; Page: 3; GSU roll: 542892
1871 England Census, Cheshire Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG10; Piece: 3678; Folio: 98; Page: 4; GSU roll: 841869
1881 England Census, Lancanshire Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG11; Piece: 4045; Folio: 21; Page: 36; GSU roll: 1341967
Registration of Death for Eliza Downes, 1887, England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915, Vol. 8a
1891 England Census, Stonnall Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG12; Piece: 2214; Folio: 114; Page: 9; GSU roll: 6097324
1901 England Census, Austrey Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG13; Piece: 2650; Folio: 100; Page: 12
Registration of Death for Daniel Downes, 20 December 1901, Reg. No. 1901/120, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.
1911 England Census, Tamworth Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG14; Piece: 16835; Schedule Number: 21
1911 England Census, Castle Gresley Township, Derbyshire County, England; Class: RG14; Piece: 16770; Schedule Number: 71
Registration of Death for Eliza Downes, 25 February 1923, Reg. No. 1923/221, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.