Hampshire Genealogical Society

Ancestor not found in a census

A frequent ‘brick wall’ question is “Why can’t I find my ancestor on the night of the census?”


Here’s a few things to consider….

  • The surname is completely different e.g. widow had remarried; children from her first marriage are under her new husband’s surname.
  • Ages and birth places can be variable between censuses.
  • Relationships shown can have meant something different when the census was taken e.g. ‘in law’ can mean stepchild, son may be grandson.
  • Forename listed maybe the individual’s middle name or nickname.
  • An ancestor may have been out of the country, e.g. in Scotland (would have been counted there) or stationed abroad in army, navy or merchant navy.
  • People may not be where you believed them to be e.g. a family may have moved between censuses.
  • Street names may have been changed.
  • Sometimes street numbering did change between censuses, it does not mean that the family had moved. Check whether the neighbours are same.
  • Areas may have been demolished and rebuilt.
  • Name changed e.g. marriage, remarriage, foreigners may have anglicised their names or a person may have been a bigamist.
  • Someone may have emigrated, check censuses for other countries e.g. Canada and America.
  • Missing people may be mariners, itinerant workers, travelling families, bargemen, fishermen, navvies (rail and canal builders) or mill workers and were away on the night of the census.


Fiona Ranger

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