Swaledale - original census data

Here are the rules I devised when adapting the original census data to ensure that everyone in the census had a job description, and to find missing spouses. My Swaledale lists are the result, and the source of all my subsequent essays. You can have copies of these lists for yourself if you have an area of research you want to follow.

The censuses were taken geographically, based on parishes. All censuses from 1841 onwards were based on paper forms distributed to each household a few days before the census was due. The enumerator then walked round and collected all the forms, helping the illiterate as he went. Then he went back to his warm house, copied the information into the big ledger sheets we see today, and (horror) eventually threw the original forms away. Mistakes and omissions will have been made, but he could only record what he was told - he did not line up the whole household and count heads.

You can determine his route by the order in which all the households appear in the census. This gives you a very good idea about who were neighbours and shows where a son and his family lived next door to his widowed mother, or where a daughter was parked with grandma three doors down when a new baby arrived. What is impossible to pick up without a good local map is that two houses which were quite close together might appear in separate censuses because there was a steep slope in between - for example where some Hurst census houses dip down into Arkengarthdale. And just occasionally an outlying farm or hamlet appears in one district’s census one year, and in another the next time. Some of the census place names no longer appear on modern maps, but you can get a good idea of where they were from their immediate neighbours.

However, the census was taken only every ten years. Children were born and died within ten years. Families moved in and out of the area. People away from home were not always recorded elsewhere, or were sometimes recorded twice (like Edward Tiplady, whose sorry story is told elsewhere on this site). Because the data is so detailed, it is tempting to think that it is complete. It is not. Close relatives lived in Wensleydale or Bowes so you won't find them here. Beware. Parish registers would give you more, but are much harder to get at.

I would not even have started this research if I had not found Christine Amsden’s transcriptions of most of the Swaledale census returns, and we enjoyed a chatty email correspondence as I filled the 1881 gaps and found the (very occasional) error in other years. So my lists are based on Christine’s census transcripts, and I am very grateful to her. All remaining errors are mine. Her lists are, of course, based on reproductions of the original records held by the Public Records Office in London, which holds the copyright, and all of us are only allowed to use the data for our own personal research.

Jobs for everyone

Where the census actually records an occupation I realized that I would have to standardise the description to make it easy to sort, group and count (all lead miners, all dressmakers, and so on). So I worked through every census list and made the necessary changes. I did not delete any of the original data but I did sometimes simplify it, and my additional text is in italicised blue. In each census there were hundreds of lead miners and tens of lead ore miners (the same thing) and dozens of boot makers and bootmakers (the same thing) and landed proprietors and landowners (the same thing!). I even noticed some 1891 'factory operatives', which I wrongly thought was a modern invention of the politically correct. Changing the job descriptions to a standard set meant I could then count them all, and see how self-sufficient each village was. You can see the results in the Who did what? essay.

There were also many many wives, widows and children who might need to be counted as working within a particular trade, as well as spouses missing on census night. The following paragraphs explain how I gave an occupation to every one of those wives, widows, children, how I found many missing spouses, and how I forgot to deal with gender.


I could not decide what non-domestic work the wife of a lead miner or labourer might have time to do so she is simply "wife" unless the lead miner is also a part-time farmer, in which case she is a "farmer's wife". I mean no disrespect to lead-miners’ wives; they would have been hard-working, useful and creative, but they didn’t tell us how. Indeed, one Healaugh wife described her occupation as “married” as if that was quite enough! And a 50-year old labourer described his 37-year old wife as a “house servant” - albeit one who warmed his bed at night, if the regularly spaced young children in the household are any guide.


Many of the later Heads of household were widows with no occupation. I have assigned work to them as follows:

It would be interesting to establish how many young lead miner wives were widowed, but many re-married before the next census and can only easily be found if they took unusually-named children with them. And Alan Mills has already published mortality rates, with alarming but understandable statistics on life expectancy and deaths from chest diseases (see the Useful Links paragraph on my home page). My lists would need more work to identify all miners’ widows.

And the census throws interesting lights on how families treated each other. One widowed head of household listed her unmarried son, then her married daughter, then her maid, then her son-in-law. In that order.


It is difficult to know exactly what all the children did. Some as young as 3 are down as scholars and a few as Sabbath or Sunday scholars. Some were not at school at all. I am quite sure they were working part time from a very young age. In the 1850s and 60s the 10-year-olds included lead miners, lead ore washers and a shepherd; apprenticeships started at 12 or 13. After 1870 all children aged 5-13 had to go to school.

James Hawker’s A Victorian Poacher is one of the few journals written by working-class people and still available today. His opening paragraph gives a clear picture of his young life:

“I was born in 1836 in Daventry, Northamptonshire, of very Poor Parents. My Father was a Tailor by Trade and my Mother assisted him in this work. Times were very Bad and they found it hard to Live. At the age of six I remember my Father working in a Garrett where I Slept, until ten o’clock at night. At the age of eight I went to work in the Fields, scaring Birds for seven days a week at a wage of one shilling. This sum Bought my Mother a four Pound Loaf.”

In schools before 1850 a teacher might have a class of over 100 children, helped by pupil teachers and monitors. The teacher separately taught the monitors, some of them as young as nine, who then tried to teach their schoolmates. Modern teacher training calls this "cascading".

Given the place and time I have been more conservative and gender-conscious in assigning jobs than I would be with data 100 years younger:

Missing spouses

Using the simple rule that there should be two married people in a household, I checked the census lists for missing spouses and either found them elsewhere or noted their absence. I have listed all the ones I did find, even though they may have moved away permanently, I have given them a Unique ID and recorded the detail available from their local census.

I must admit to great satisfaction when I found one missing husband - a farmer and joiner - working on a distant hotel owned by an ex-Swaledaler who had also given the family's oldest daughter a job. When I was tracking down Swaledalers who had left for good (see Origins and Destinations) I often found an ex-Swaledale family offering lodgings or a job to their former neighbours, or one family living just down the road from another.

The census enumerator was usually a local man so I am surprised at how honest some of the answers were, though I expect it was hard to keep any secrets about fatherhood, or how big your farm was. However, the enumerator could only copy what he was told, and often had his own ideas of how to spell Margaret, or Leonard, or Urwin and Irwin. But I am surprised at how many married people said they were still married when it is clear that they were living separate lives. Still, it makes them easier to find. And some surprising stories emerge, such as that of the capable Margaret Tiplady.

Missing people

In 1901, the occupants of 38 houses in Swaledale (out of 684) were absent on the night of the census. The enumerator must have known something about those people, and how helpful it would have been if he had written “Alderson, John, and family, absent”. Or “that deaf shoemaker”. I know it is unreasonable but I feel cheated when there is so little information otherwise available about ordinary families.

I did not assume any missing teenagers, deciding that they were either at home or living with their employers, but other people, especially children, did turn up suddenly aged 14. How? Well, they may have been staying with grandma ten years earlier whilst a younger sibling was being born. I have learnt not to assume that a family is complete, even when the children’s ages go 14, 12, 10, 8, 5, 3, 1. There is probably a 16-year-old out there somewhere; maybe even a 7-year-old as well. My Births and marriages essay looks at families in more detail.

And I am suspicious of the clergyman who managed to be absent in consecutive censuses. Did he exist at all? What was his first name? I need an on-line Crockfords..... I need a quick free look in the on-line Crockfords!


One fact which has not been transferred to the transcripts is each person’s gender, since gender is cleverly implied (in the age columns) but not stated in the original census lists. So if you want to look at gender-related topics you will have to create a new data field in each person’s record and mark all the Males. Once you have done this (and it will be quicker, because there were, I think, fewer men than women) you can sort by Gender and fill all the blanks with F.

House and farm ownership

As an unexpected consequence of my mobility research (see Origins and Destinations) I can also see how many families moved house within the dale between one census and the next. Maybe this would help decide how many farmers and householders were tenants rather than owners. The rates assessment of 1870 helped and the results are in two essays: Home Ownership in 1870 and the updated Origins and Destinations.

Copyright © Marion Hearfield 2007