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Idiot, Imbecile, Lunatic, etc

ProfilePosted byOptionsPost Date


Adam Report 10 Aug 2013 14:19

I have a couple of ancestors with a tick in the above mentioned box and wondered if anybody had any tips on where I might find more information on these 'conditions' please?



DazedConfused Report 10 Aug 2013 14:24

A lot depends on the age of your ancestors

If elderly it could just be they have dementia

For younge women could be Post Natal Depression

And there is no way to read betweens the lines in the case of such things as Downs Syndrome.

The problem being that in one area an elderley person could be callled an Idiot and in another and Imbecile.

Not too sure if you would ever be able to tie down exactly what the problem was.

I have even found Moron!!!!

Gwyn in Kent

Gwyn in Kent Report 10 Aug 2013 14:35

Are you sure that it implied that they have a disability / condition ?
Could it just be an enumerator's tally mark, while calculating entries?

The instructions on 1911 state that the condition should be clearly stated, ....... although I agree that that is then open to interpretation.



MargaretM Report 10 Aug 2013 15:27

Often the enumerator put a tick in that column if the person was born in another county.


Adam Report 10 Aug 2013 15:36

It just seems odd that 2 members of the same household have a tick in this box on the same record


KathleenBell Report 10 Aug 2013 15:49

Can you say which census you are looking at and the name of the family please so that we can check for ourselves?

Kath. x


SuffolkVera Report 10 Aug 2013 16:01

There are lots of different definitions if you google them. This one was taken from Rootschat:

Lunatic.....An insane person. A person of often normal intelligence who
through mental or metabolic disease has descended to madness.

Idiot.....A person of permanent extremely low intelligence and usually quite
incapable of self-care FROM BIRTH.

Moron.....A person of permanent low intelligence (when adult, about equal to
a mental age of 8 to 10 years) FROM BIRTH. Today the preferred term is
"retarded". This is not as severe as idiocy.

Imbecile..... A person of previously normal intelligence who has descended
through disease (syphilis is one cause) or occupational exposure (lead and
mercury are good examples) to a moronic and occasionally idiotic condition
There are many other possible causes.

I doubt if the different categories were very strictly applied in the census.


MargaretM Report 10 Aug 2013 18:18

Adam, were the 2 people who have a tick in that column born in another county?


InspectorGreenPen Report 10 Aug 2013 18:28

Definition of terms used on Census returns England & Wales 1841 - 1891 :

Lunatic : a mentally ill person with periods of lucidity

Imbecile : persons who have fallen in later life into a state of chronic dementia

Idiot : persons who suffer from a congenital mental deficiency


ChristinaS Report 10 Aug 2013 19:12

In all the cases that I've seen where the subject actually has a condition, the condition is named. The box doesn't just have a tick. I would think that is to do with something else.


jax Report 10 Aug 2013 20:14

I would have thought it would of named the condition You normally see "Blind from birth" ect

not sure if this will work on lots of marks in that column

Gwyn in Kent

Gwyn in Kent Report 10 Aug 2013 21:44


It looks as if the marks in this example are showing all the people born outside of the London area.
ie. counting marks



SylviaInCanada Report 11 Aug 2013 06:42

The condition of the person is not shown as a tick in the column ............................. the condition is always named.

Any ticks are the result of marks made while transferring information from the one page to another OR while counting.

If you count up the ticks in that column on some pages .......... 100% of the people would be imbecile, etc IF the tick indicated the condition


Adam Report 11 Aug 2013 14:03

I am looking at Joseph Thickpenny 1901 Census, Luton Beds, born Newport Pagnell Bucks, born 1853 (48 at time if census). Curious as his niece appears to be living at the house and she has a tick in the box also. Haven't seen this tick on any other Census records - although 4 people have a tick on this page, he and his niece are from the same place. Perhaps everyone else is right, maybe they have marked those not originally from Luton?


ChristinaS Report 11 Aug 2013 14:31

I've just taken a look at the page. As pointed out before, the only people ticked are those not born in Bedfordshire.

The same applies on the following pages. The 2nd page past your Joseph, actually has someone with a condition, and "paralysis" has been written in the column.


Adam Report 11 Aug 2013 14:56

Thanks all for your help. Really appreciated. Just thought I might have been onto something interesting. The search continues... ;-)


Greenfingers Report 17 Aug 2013 18:23

Sorry to put something else into the equation, but a relative of my husbands was put down as an imbecile, and she was blind ! Thank goodness times have changed !!!!!!


DIZZI Report 17 Aug 2013 18:57