As family historians we crave to know who our ancestors are. A name is only one part of this. We want to know their story, what their life was like, what type of person they were. Census records can help us fill in part of this picture. We can learn where they were born, where they were living, who they lived with and their occupation. I remember my absolute delight one day when I found out my ancestor was in the printing/publishing industry. I felt a connection to him. We were in similar industry after all and it all seemed to make so much sense.

Sometimes census records can also give us a little bit more. The staff, have found some great examples of individuals inserting their personality into the 1911 England and Wales Census.  You might wonder how a person, can insert their own personality into a standard question and answer form, but it can happen.

For example, the magician John Watkins Holden, born approximately 1843 lists his occupation as Wizard of Ye Wicked World.  I also love that under marital status he writes he is  “very much married”. I imagine any descendants/and or relatives of Holden were delighted with the way his personality shone through.

Another interesting record is of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. Emily, perhaps best known as the suffragette who died by throwing herself in front of the King’s horse, found a unique way to bring her cause into the 1911 Census.  On census night, Emily hid herself in a crypt in Westminster Hall. The address she (quite legitimately) gave on the night of the Census was therefore “Houses of Parliament”. I can imagine her satisfaction with knowing she would be forever recorded as living in parliament in 1911.

With these fascinating examples in mind, I can’t help thinking of the upcoming 2011 Australian Census. For those of us who elect to have our information retained, what will our descendants find in 100 years and plus. I wonder how many  “Jedi Knights” will be listed in the religion category.  Will our descendants cringe? or will they be amused by our inventiveness.

Only time can tell.

The 1911 England and Wales Census can be accessed on, available for free in the State Library building.

This article has 4 comments

  1. What a great post!
    I wonder if any staff will be hiding in the State Library on census night.

  2. Super post Carmen! Those interested in finding out more about their suffragette ancestors might also want to check out the UK National Archives’ collection of surveillance photos:

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