Sunday, 13 March 2011

Error and enumerators (written December 1999)

While idly flicking through the latest issue of the 'Journal of One-Name Studies' recently (it was either this or do some real work) I came across a report of a ghost entry in the 1881 census which a reader had picked up. It refers to an 'international playboy' Robert GOODMAN (age 52) living at 16 Acacia Gardens, Paddington, with his wife Cicely (aged 97) (ref REG 11/20 f126). According to Roy Stockdill this is a fake. Roy suggests that perhaps it was added to the census enumerators' book (CEB) by a bored clerk at the GRO in the 1950s or 1960s, before the records were transferred to the PRO. The entry seems an obvious fabrication, although it fooled the 1881 indexing project.
The chance are however that one or two entries in the CEBs are ghosts which have yet to be spotted. I thought I had found one the other week when a subscriber to the mailing list, asked me about a William NOBODY (age 41), a farmer labourer in Frankly, WOR in 1881 (RG 11/2941 f145). My excitement mounted as I checked the IGI and the GRO indexes. William does not appear in either place. Surprisingly there are a few NOBODYs listed in Family Search. The entry looks genuine however, even though no other NOBODYs are shown in the index.
Marie here at the Society suggested a possible answer. He may have been a foundling and given that name on adoption. If so it must have been a cruel thing to do.
Why do I think that there may be other ghosts in the census? Human nature is the answer. Certainly if I had been a census enumerator I would be very tempted to leave something for posterity. Enumerators were the people who went round collecting census forms, completing them if necessary and then send the results neatly written up in books to London.
The General Register Office expected an enumerator to 'be a person of intelligence and activity... He must be temperate, orderly and respectable, and be such a person as is likely to conduct himself with strict propriety, and to deserve the goodwill of the inhabitants...' Considering the arduous and precise work they had to undertake they were extremely poorly paid. In 1817 enumerators were given a fixed fee of 1 guinea (1.05); 2s 6d for every 100 persons in their district above the first 400 enumerated; and 6d per mile for every mile above the first five miles covered in collecting schedules.
As Edward Higgs, the historian of the census wrote in 'Making Sense of the Census' (HMSO, 1989) 'It was almost universally agreed that these rates of pay were insufficient in themselves to attract high quality staff, or to encourage the greatest diligence.'
Occasionally on the comments section at the beginning of the enumerator's books you may come across grumbling from aggrieved enumerators about the hard work and poor pay.
In 'Making use of the Census' (PRO Publications, 1997) Sue Lumas quotes remarks made by the enumerator of All Hallows, Barking (HO 107/1531 f193) 'I was not aware' he wrote, 'that all the particulars were to be entered by the enumerator in a book, the work without that, being ample for the sum paid, nor had I any idea of the unreasonable amount of labour imposed. The distribution collection etc of the schedules together with the copying of the same occupied from two to three hours for every sixty persons enumerated and for that - the equivalent is - ONE SHILLING!!'
Is it any wonder that the occasional 'mistake' must have crept in. Perhaps we have spent years trying to follow up one of these fabrications. What a horrible thought...

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