The Devon Census of 1841

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The Devon Census of 1841 relates to the night of June 6th/7th.  There were enormous problems to be coped with in making it - size of the County,  lack of good roads, sparse population in country districts spread out over a wide area - all difficult to organise. But over-riding all these considerations, there was the widespread inability of the general population to read or write. Consequently, enumerators walked from house to house even in the remote countryside. It proved to be a long and exhausting process as they could cover at least 10 miles in a day.

It was decided to make the fair copy in indelible pencil because of the difficulties in transporting and mixing ink. This has now faded very badly and the original paper has darkened with age so that films made of this Census are notoriously difficult to read - the sheets relating to Eggbuckland and Knackersknowle being annoyingly bad!

Names were to be included with the household listed in what was called "natural order" - that is, father first. But in June, many fathers were away, working the first of the year's harvests and many men were omitted.

There was a question relating to place of birth but only asking if each person was born in the county where the Census was taking place. Ages were to be included, to the nearest multiple of five below for adults. Precise ages were to be given for children under 15. Unfortunately, hardly any enumerators understood the phrase " multiple of five below" so these are consistently inaccurate.

The occupation of the Head of Household and other non-related males were included but no relationships are stated, making it impossible to spot unmarried brothers or nieces or grandchildren for instance.

Finally, not everyone is included. The enumerators were supposed to be local people who knew where every dwelling was - not too difficult in the confines of a town, say - but they simply could not track down every single hutment or cottage on Dartmoor or in some of the isolated coastal regions. We shouldn't be too critical though - the most conservative estimate of the number of missing census returns for 2001 is 2 million!


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