Monday, 12 January 2015

Demand to see it with your own eyes

In a recent post, I wrote that "Naturally, locating the relevant census records took a matter of moments with the correct names." That might have been a slight exaggeration.

There was no difficulty in finding the 1871 Census which showed Agnes Cameron (our 2xgreat grandmother), her parents (John and Sarah) and older sister (Isabella) all living at Rosendale Road, Eastwood (along with two brothers and an apparently-unrelated boarder).

The 1881 record was not quite so easy to interpret. The transcription offered by FindMyPast shows that all the expected children were living at Rossendale (sic) Road and the boarder's room seems to have been taken over by two more youngsters (Robert and Sarah). But their mother Sarah is missing and John is listed as a 44 year-old widowed female head of the house! Clearly there was something amiss.

There was no alternative but to pass a few more bawbees to ScotlandsPeople to be able to examine the image for myself. Once again, the expense was well justified.

The document shows that Sarah was alive and well. She had been widowed but chose to continue to describe herself as Mrs John Cameron. The modern indexer knew full well that prefixes such as Mrs have no place in a Census and omitted it without comment. It was a pity that the enumerator in 1881 was not so diligent in ensuring that each person was identified by their own given name.

So the 1881 Census confirmed that the annotation "dec" against the bride parents' names on the 1887 marriage register referred to her father John not Sarah. Although it does suggest that Sarah aged a little after his death. (She was 30 in 1871 but 44 in 1881, almost exactly John's age.) That expands the margin of error concerning her true date of birth but is less troubling than the uncertainty over its location. In 1871, John stated that his wife had been born in Ireland, but ten years later Sarah gave Lennoxtown in Stirlingshire as her place of origin.

Each new document diligently examined clears away a little of the mist obscuring our past and then throws up new questions requiring fresh evidence. Now where did I put my purse … ?

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