Why can’t I find him in the 1891 census ?

Well, if you are just starting out on your family search and you are looking for a relative, there is a chance you will look, look again and then think what a stupid hobby and take up topiary – as the hedges will grow faster than your tree is.

I was foolishly going off on a tangent and looking for Queen Victoria in the 1901 census, then thought better of it as she had died in January, so off to search 1891.

I had looked for H M Victoria, Queen and Victoria born in 1819 but to no avail, desperation drove me to search for THE in the Christian name box, lots of entries and some were very surprising including, The Leadbeater who when you look at the original census form is Thos Leadbeater.

Then I thought I’d try HER and see what that brings up! Well, it brought up 70 hits and the one that made me laugh and feel very sorry for the beginner in family history looking for their relative.  So, I’m looking for HM Queen Victoria among these 70 hits and I find this – Her Vest Black Van. Now, is this a name, no! It is a wonderful example of someone who has looked at a census document and written what they think they see.  One question to ask, and an important question is, does this person have knowledge of British surnames? Another important question is, do they have a knowledge of British places?  In this case, I think the former is certainly a NO!  But, they have a knowledge of English words, hence the transcription.  It’s like the old quiz show ‘say what you see’.

Who is Her Vest Black Van, well she turns out to be a her after all, but a he! He is Herbert Blackburn the 7-month-old son of John and Mary Blackburn and living in Bolton. He was one of 8 children aged between 20 years old and 7 months.  John worked as a printer compositor to feed his family and some of his children worked in the cotton mills.

The moral of this story is don’t just search for the obvious.

Another moral is to think out of the box.

If all else fails put your relative on the back burner, he is not going anywhere, and follow another side of the tree.  Then, go back refreshed and full of enthusiasm, open your mind to searching wider i.e. searching by first name and year of birth with either a county or town – it will take you longer but all the spelling variations turn up.  This would not help in the case of Her Vest Black Van, but you would certainly have had a chuckle along the way.