Thursday, January 3, 2013

Friday's Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge" - C is for Census

Friday is here again and it is time for my next post in Friday's Family History through the Alphabet Challenge which is my attempt to complete the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge.

"C" is the letter of the moment, and I am going with something very obvious!  "C" is for Census!  You may say "not very original", however, my justification is that I believe copies of the census play a very important part of family tree research.

As I am based in Australia I will, in this blog, refer mainly to the Australian Census.  However, a lot of this information is relevant for census records in other countries.

What is a Census?  It is the collection and recording of information on the population of a country. It collects information on occupation, number of people living in a dwelling, the type of dwelling and occupations of those living in that dwelling on Census night.  In Australia, the census is conducted every 5 years under the Census and Statistics Act of 1905.

The first national census in Australia was held in 1901, prior to this date the most common way to record information about the population was a muster or state census. Data on the population of Australia was collected from as early as 1788.  Up until the census in 1901 each of the states and colonies held regular musters or census that collected a variety of information, e.g. occupation, age, number of family members, gender and marital status. The state libraries provide access to these records  Victorian State Library, NSW State Library, and the State Library of Western Australia for example.

The collection of information on the Australia population in the early days of settlement wasn't easy, as is pointed out in the article written on the collection of the 1841 census for South Australia by Jaunay (2004). As Jaunay points out, the colony of South Australia was only 5 years old, the distances were vaste, tallies were incorrect, spellings were incorrect and there is a lack of detail. However, these musters if not entirely accurate,  provide us with a snapshot of the times. As the collection of information became more efficient over the years,  these systematic collections of population information have become a great source of information for social researchers, historians and genealogists.

If you are interested in an overall picture or snap shot of what it was like in Australia at a particular census time the Australian Census Web site provides summaries or "snapshots" of the data collected at the time of the census.  An interesting snapshot on the 1901 Census can be found on this site at "A Snap Shot of Australia 1901.

Now you may ask, how does the census help me with my family tree research?  Here is a brief summary of the information that can be gleaned from your ancestors census record:  It will provide some of if not all of the information on: their address, occupation, names of those in the house on census night, ages, where they were born, the relationship and gender of the people living in the dwelling and their neighbours. 

Looking at the census over a number of years will help you trace the movement of your ancestors, when the children left home, if the grandparents have moved in to be looked after in their old age and if they absent it may give you a clue as to when they may have passed away.  If a young child appears on one census report and then not on the next there is a fair chance that they may have died in infancy. 

A census record can also be very useful in locating other members of the family, once you have located one member of the family it is a good idea to go through the pages before and after on the census record as you can often find other members of the family who live near by. 

I would be interested to hear from others on their tips for gathering and analysing information re their family tree from census records!!

*Jaunay, G. (2004), "1841 South Australian Census, What you will and won't find",, viewed 4 January 2013.

1 comment:

  1. I sure do agree as to the importance of the Census Diane. Have based so much Ancestral research on those of the UK but never paid much attention to those in Australia. Many thanks... will be following up the links you've provided.