The duplicate​ family

The duplicate family.
We were exploring the 1861 census and found Joseph Brown (B1820) and his wife Elizabeth with all the right children and in the right order. The ages were slightly askew, but, that’s nothing unusual.

The problem was, we found another, near identical family, on the next sheet of the census. Same named parents, same named children, with one exception all of a similar age. This second family lives at White Hall. The first was at Huntingford i.e very close by.

The conundrum deepens when we discover it was the same  enumerator for both. How could 2 families, living so close – about a mile or 2 apart – have such strikingly similar names, similar ages of children and in the correct gender order? A crazy fluke perhaps.

One family had a child named  Enock or Enoch perhaps, born in 1856 and the other had a girl Edith born in 1856. We have used the names of these two children to define the respective families. The Enoch Tribe and the Edith Tribe.

In order to define which was which we searched for an Enoch, or similar, in various web collections:; and

Only one record for an Enoch Brown of that geographical area exists in these records. It is the entry for the Enoch we see in the 1861 census. Other than that he does not seem to have existed in any other record, which leads us to believe that entry is incorrect. Edith, on the other hand, existed: in fact, she was the person who reported her father’s death.

How could this seeming duplication exist? Perhaps we should consider the census taking process and how that process could offer opportunities for error.

This is from the national Archives website. It describes how the census was taken…

From 1841 to 1901 a census schedule was completed for each household and was then collected by the enumerator who copied the information into an enumeration book. It is these enumeration books that we consult today online and on microfilm.

Special enumeration books were completed for institutions such as workhouses, barracks, and hospitals. There were special schedules for vessels from 1851 onwards.

In 1911 all the household schedules were kept (RG 14), and were not copied into enumeration books. There are instead enumerators’ summary books which list every address, including unoccupied buildings, and only contain the names of the head of each household (RG 78). The 1911 was also the first census where the army overseas was enumerated; previously there was only a headcount.”

We can see the enumerator distributed “census schedules to each household and collected” them. This does beg the question of how this would work in a largely illiterate rural society? Did the enumerator sit in front of the household member – presumably the wife as the husband was out working – and  ask them questions? The answer to this is not known, but, it is perhaps the first area for error.

Next, the enumerator transcribes these census schedules – field notes if you like- into the enumeration books we see today. Presumably, this was some time after/ Days? Weeks? We don’t know the answer. And, if in this transcription he makes an error i.e. wrong age, wrong gender, or perhaps he simply couldn’t make out the entries in his own field notes, would he be bothered? Who would know? We are sure those employed were diligent but mistakes happen.

Lastly, were the transcriptions carried out in the same order as the enumerators ride through his collection area? There is no way of knowing.

From this you can see there are many elements to the process  which could give rise to error.

In this case, we have to choose between these seeming identical families being just that, Identical, an amazing coincidence. Which, added to them being on consecutive sheets simply adds to the incredulity of the coincidence. Or, do we assume it was a mistake, pure and simple. The latter assumption could be substantiated as there is little evidence of this duplication continuing into the next census.

The confusion was cleared up with the arrival of a birth certificate for Edith. The certificate clearly shows her father to be Joseph Brown and her mother to be Elizabeth Owen. And, as we have these names on the birth certificate of Joseph the Bricklayer it is therefore proven that The records for the “Edith” tribe are the correct ones. We have therefore dismissed the near duplicate family as being the bloodline family. A major distraction though it was.

NOTE On census data.
Much of the information genealogists discover is as a result of scrutinising the census data.

  • A census of the population has been taken every ten years since 1801 with the exception of 1941.
  • The 1841 census was the first to list the names of every individual.
  • The ages in the 1841 census were rounded down to the nearest five* for those 15 years of age or over
  • House numbers were rarely given in earlier census years, and in rural areas – such as we are dealing with – you will only find the name of the village or hamlet

*this makes it especially important to discover the baptismal records.

Looking for the baptismal records for this Joseph drew a blank. We could find no baptismal records for Joseph from the parish where his siblings were baptised. All we found was a record from a non-conformist church a few miles away in Kingswood. The names of the parents were right, as was the name of the child. But, non-conformist, and in Kingswood? It seemed very tenuous so we assumed he had not been baptised. And then we had this note from the genealogist…

“Dear Peter,

Forgot to tell you in my Report-

The baptism of Joseph which you found in the Kingswood Register appears to be correct.

The Minister travelled around the district baptising children at various chapels. Kingswood was located near to Wotton-Under-Edge and is just inside Wiltshire county. Although he (the minister) visited various chapels, there was only one register for the district, unlike C of E where each parish has its own register.

Best wishes Sue “

So there we had it. For some reason, now lost in history, Joseph could have been  baptised by an itinerant non-conformist preacher whose base was in Kingswood.

From that record, we can see Joseph baptised 20th August 1820. His father was George Brown and his mother was Edith (Mathews we believe). Their residence is shown as Michaelwood. We have no other record of the actual birth. We have therefore assumed, maybe incorrectly, the birth to be early 1820.


Table showing the 2 similar families in the 1861 census.

The two separate families of Joseph Brown in the 1861 census. These two, near identical, families are just one page apart on the census.
The Enoch tribe of White Hall The Edith Tribe Huntingford
Joseph 37 1824 Berkeley Farm Lab Joseph 36 1825 Berkeley Farm Lab
Elizabeth 38 1823 Horseley Elizabeth 33 1828 North Nibley
Ann 12 1849 Berkeley Ann 11 1850 Lower Wick
Ellen 10 1851 Berkeley Ellen 9 1852 Lower Wick
Joseph 8 1853 Not shown Joseph 4 1857 Lower Wick
Enoch 5 1856 Berkeley Edith 5 1856 Lower Wick
Frederick less than 1 1861 Berkeley Frederick 7 Months 1861 Huntingford

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