Census from Punch Historical Archive

I have recently been making the most of my time by using the very popular library edition of Ancestry, as a library member, via the RBKC libraries website.  In Ancestry, censuses from different years are widely used as a tool for researching a particular address or person.  It’s possible to find out more about how they lived, who they lived with, names, ages, occupations and so on.  It’s a great resource if you are interested in your family history, or even the history of the house you live in.

The first census of 1801 and the subsequent censuses until 1831, were statistical, carried out by local parish overseers and  not many have survived.  It was not until 1841 and then 1851, that names, address, ages, relationship to the man of the household and occupations, where born, disability (blind, dumb and deaf)  were enumerated.

Looking through Ancestry made me wonder what people thought of the census in the past.  The best place to look is via one of our other online resources, the Punch Historical Archive online.  Founded by Henry Mayhew and Ebenezer Landells, the magazine became a much loved satire of social and political life in those 150 years between 1841 and 1992.  What did people think of the census in those years from 1841 and the years after.

Here is a definition of the census from an 1851 edition of Punch, which gives an idea of how the census was viewed, and more importantly, how society was viewed.

 Census: numbering and classifying of the people, which takes place every ten years, when the whole human pack is sorted after the long shuffling it has experienced.

Punch was full of wit and satire and the census did not escape.  Satire of the census was written about and illustrated throughout the magazine’s history.  There are many jokes that refer to women lying about their age – no publication would get away with this now.


Another theme was women pointing out their status as “Female” in the household, where the men were “Head of the Family”.

Punch is a great historical record of the view and trends in society in the past and gives us a lot of information about the census and people’s views on it. If you would like to explore it for yourself, click here and if you would like to explore the census or research your family tree, Ancestry is available free to use in our libraries by clicking here and clicking on the link to the Ancestry Library Edition website.

Hiru, Central Library














Who Do You Think You Are?

Ancestry Logo

Are you a fan of the BBC 1 programme, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ If you’ve felt the urge to trace your family history then why not use Ancestry? Of course to find out more about your family history you can always ask family members and you will find out all sorts. However this isn’t always possible.

There are lots of family history databases online. Some are free to use  but they only contain a small amount of information compared to Ancestry.  You can access Ancestry free of charge from any computer in our libraries.

Ancestry Family Tree
Ancestry Family Tree

So what can you find out with Ancestry?

Well there are some great resources including the Census, records of Tax, Birth, Marriage and Death, immigration, military and travel, Electoral Registers and more. These can provide you with a great breadcrumb trail taking you from records of you and your close family (it’s always a good start to try to find a record of for instance your own birth), to ones from the 19th century when the Census and other record keeping began (you can go back even further if you are lucky; there are records which go all the way back to the 16th century).

If you have managed to follow your ancestors back to 1911 or before you will be in luck as after 100 years the Census records become available. This contains a wonderful amount of information including your ancestor’s address at the time, their age and birth place, occupation, who was living with them and their relationship to them.

Putting your detective cap on you can follow all these clues and create a whole family tree with the help of relatives, including perhaps some you don’t even know yet! Nevertheless, it can be a bit tricky to use. Bear in mind that there are literally millions of entries in there. Furthermore, Ancestry tries to put them in order of relevance but this can have both a positive and negative effect; putting the names which meet your search criteria better higher up the list than those that don’t but at the same time putting American results often higher up than those from outside e.g. English results.

Top tips for your epic searches include:

• Don’t put in too much especially if you have an unusual surname
• Search specific databases e.g. the 1911 census
• Put in information such as year of birth, location

Do be warned tracing your family history does take time! If you need any assistance – pop into your local Kensington and Chelsea library or visit the Local Studies Library at Kensington Central Library.

Looking at plans in the Local Studies Library

The Local Studies Library will be having an Open Day on Saturday 8 December. Staff will be on hand to demonstrate how to use Ancestry as well as showing the other resources they have that can help with tracing your family history.  You will also have a chance to tour the archives.

If you can’t make that date, Marylebone Library in Westminster has a family history group which meets once a month. They share tips and experiences about researching family history. For more information please email: ogrey@westminster.gov.uk

Owen Grey, Reference Librarian

Kensington Central Reference Library and Marylebone Information Service