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TIP OF THE DAY: How to find the missing.

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ProfilePosted byOptionsPost Date


Jonesey Report 21 Mar 2011 08:45

There are many reasons why our ancestors do not appear in the census records where we expect them to be.

Census enumerators may have misheard what they were being told. They may have spelled names differently (Remember that there is no such thing as standardised spelling of names) or because they were human just like us they may have simply made a mistake.

The next step in the recording process is transcribing the record itself. Trying to decipher someone else’s handwriting is not always easy and often results in the record being incorrectly transcribed. Once again the people doing the transcribing are human so mistakes are made. Mistranscriptions can be very frustrating.

Here is a tip which may help you to find who you are searching for.

Type the persons forename into the census search form but leave the surname box completely empty. You can do this in reverse if you wish, entering a surname but leaving the forename box empty. Remember that people often used a different 1st name from the one they were born/baptised with. E.G. Dick = Richard, Harry = Henry, Nellie = Eleanor, Betsy = Elizabeth ect. Be aware also of common enumerators abbreviations such as Thos = Thomas, Hy = Henry, Wm = William ect

Type the persons birth year +/- 2 or +/- 5 years. Some people were not sure how old they were or they may have deliberately lied about their age to make themselves appear younger or older than their spouse. Children’s ages in census returns are generally more likely to be accurate than those of adults.

Type in their birth county/birthplace. Sometimes it pays to leave the birthplace blank because that too may have been misheard, misspelled or mistranscribed. Some people genuinely did not know their exact place of birth or may even have lied for various reasons.

If necessary use wildcards such as "*" or "?" in the surname to try to reveal a name where wrongly transcribed letters may have changed a name. E.G. Pegden, Pigden, Pigdon, Pagden. Entering P?gd* will reveal all those options plus many others if using Ancestry.

Press "Search". This will bring up a list of all the people with that name of approximate age born in that county/place. Scroll through the list (It may be a long list) and hopefully you will find your missing ancestor shown as Borne instead of Bourne or Wilks instead of Wilkes or similar. It doesn't always work but it might.

Look for patterns in words rather than names just beginning with the 1st letter of the correct name. E.G. Baldrick has 8 letters and ends 'ick' as does Coldrick. Anyone looking for someone called Tucker may well be shocked to discover how some of their ancestors were mistranscribed.

Good luck with your search.


Lynski Report 21 Mar 2011 21:08

Very interesting, Jonesey.


SylviaInCanada Report 22 Mar 2011 04:00

If all else fails

try birth year +/- 5 years, and either birth place OR place where you expect to find them

Then scroll through all the results

This works well for small villages, very cumbersome for towns .......... but sometimes is the only way.


Jill 2011 (aka Warrior Princess of Cilla!)

Jill 2011 (aka Warrior Princess of Cilla!) Report 21 Aug 2011 15:34

Always worth trying to say - or imagine someone else saying - the name in a different accent ... if the family had moved the enumerator could easily have misheard the name.

Also try writing the surname in that spiky copperplate style - ever so easy to misread r and n and u and v and w etc.

And names that begin with a vowel - try adding an H or think about the ending of the name of the head of house and add that to the beginning of the surname. And also names that began with an H - try the same or try just dropping the H. Also worth trying different vowel sounds.

Oh, fun and games!



PricklyHolly Report 21 Aug 2011 15:39

Another great "Tip of the Day" Jonesey!!


Sally Report 21 Aug 2011 16:39

thanks joneesy

a good examle on the 1911 census it said my gran was born in hardly she was born in ardleigh

sally w :-D

Gwyn in Kent

Gwyn in Kent Report 21 Aug 2011 19:34

Using a combination of Jonesey and Sylvia's methods
... when scrolling through hits with these methods try looking at surnames which look very unusual or unheard of.

Tall and short letters in combinations of correct placing in the same name can be displayed in very odd ways, but are worth checking.

One of my friend's most unexpected finds was from a census transcription for a surname starting Sch.... when in fact it should have been Bel......



Suzanne Report 21 Aug 2011 20:55

hi jonesey.
howdo i go about looking for my elusive g grandmother who cannot befound after 1915.x :-D


Jonesey Report 21 Aug 2011 21:31


Presumably you know what her circumstances were in 1915. I.E. Age, single, married, divorced, where she was living ect. Use that information as your starting point. Link to it any other person that she may have been sharing her life with at the time. If you are unable to find anything about her investigate the others to see whether that might provide any clues to her.

Try some of the tips on this link:

Good luck


Suzanne Report 22 Aug 2011 20:49

done all of that jonesey, nothing.x


Jonesey Report 30 Nov 2011 15:59

:-D :-D :-D


SylviaInCanada Report 9 Dec 2011 20:59

still a timely thread

~~~Secret Red ^^ Squirrel~~~  **007 1/2**

~~~Secret Red ^^ Squirrel~~~ **007 1/2** Report 9 Dec 2011 21:30

I've also tried finding other people in the family...sometimes they appear more easily than a particular member.

Failing that, if I know where the family lived 10 years before/after, I've searched for a particular neighbour in the street (if I think they may still live there) and it pulls up the street where they live. Sometime my family have been still living there, just badly transcribed.

Some are still illusive though :(


SylviaInCanada Report 9 Dec 2011 22:36


that's the alien spaceship been down to earth again!

............. the one that dropped off my gt x something grandfather in 1740, just in time for him to get married ....... and then also appear in all records after that.

Either that, or he sprung out of the ground fully grown :-D



Christine Report 9 Dec 2011 22:50

I had tried absolutely everything I could think of to try and find one of mine prior to 1841. He had an unusual first name so he should have been easy, but no such luck. I had had lots of help (on here and on another site), but all had drawn a blank. In desperation I decided to look at all instances of the name (Melatiah), even if they seemed impossible. I finally found him:

Baptised in 1806 (probable year of birth 1795)
A different surname (mother didn't marry until the following year)
Described as female instead of male!

Never give up!


SylviaInCanada Report 10 Dec 2011 02:06

good one, Christine!

Unfortunately my guy has a common forename, John

......... and his surname was common in the area in which he married ........ but also is relatively common in Cornwall at that time.

soooooooooooo ..... did he move from Cornwall to Buckinghamshire?

Possible ........... but no-one, and there have many people looking, can determine that.

Bunty the Mouse Slayer

Bunty the Mouse Slayer Report 11 Dec 2011 18:42

Warmest wishes to all!

Can anyone tell me if it was mandatory to register your child born about 1865 in England? Could the birth have been registered only with with the church and not the city?

Thank you,
Bunty :-S


Jonesey Report 11 Dec 2011 19:10

Civil registration of births began in the latter part of 1837 in England and Wales. However it did not become mandatory until 1874. Consequently a lot of births went unregistered.

Prior to 1874 it was the responsibility of registrars to register a birth in their district. After 1874 parents could be fined if they did not register the birth of their child within 6 weeks of the actual date of birth. A child may have been baptised but that then, as now, was optional.


SylviaInCanada Report 11 Dec 2011 20:36

Actually, after mid-1874, it became the MOTHER's responsibility to register the birth of a baby within 6 weeks of the birth. And she was the one who would be fined.

Fathers were not allowed to, nor was anyone else, unless the mother was unable to do it ....... ie, too ill, or dead.

You might want to try looking over a much wider time period .................. some mothers who did not register the birth within the 6 weeks, would say the baby was born later, to avoid the fine.

Also, don't forget that the 6 week period could push the registration into the next quarter ...... or even into the following year, if the baby was born after mid-November.



JerryH Report 11 Dec 2011 21:22

Even then, there were some that "slipped the net"

How often have we seen an entry in the Register where the Page Number is shown as See 'S 98 - or something similar.
These relate to Late Registrations where the entry for a Birth Registration was made in a later period - sometimes many years later.

I know that in such circumstances, FreeBMD tries to link the records with a "System Link"