Address searching often requires a degree of lateral thinking to get the best results. Here’s a few extra tips and also some new features on the horizon which aim to make your searching easier. The post below is based in replying to questions from a customer searching in Dorking, Surrey but the points apply equally to addresses across the country.
The source of address details on the census is that taken from the original form filled in by the householder (this contrasts with previous censuses, where the forms were compiled by the enumerator, thus introducing some level of standardisation in recording). Unfortunately, several factors conspire to make the historical document problematic for finding addresses using 1911 census returns.
The first is that in 1911, the concept of a full postal address with a number and street was less evolved than it is today. Many houses simply carried names and householders would then place the town afterwards. To take an example, looking at modern-day Pixham Lane in Dorking, Surrey, the majority of the houses carried names but most householders simply included their postal address as “name of house, Dorking” and this is the information that we transcribe. Unfortunately this was compounded by the small space on the original form left for the address, meaning the householder would often abbreviate the address to make it fit. Have a look at an example of an Original Page to see how small the space was for your ancestors to enter their address.
The second is that many householders used abbreviations for words (as we do today), such as “Rd” for “Road”. Again using an example of Lincon Road in Dorking (around the corner from Pixham Lane) if you search for “Lincoln” on its own in Dorking, Surrey all 44 properties are returned sequentially, some listed as “Lincoln Road” others as “Lincoln Rd”. Try searching for just the first part of the address and leaving off lanes, Roads, Crescents etc, but narrow the search area by county and district first.
We will be applying many data enhancements and standardisation processes over the coming months to compensate for these common inconsistencies in the originals and to make the data more easily searchable. However, the transcriptions are in this case accurate based on the original documents. To get the best out of any historical document, a degree of lateral thinking often has to be applied.
Thirdly, place names and spellings change: in the case above, Pixham had an alternative spelling of “Pixholme” and 35 properties are found in Dorking under this listing. If you can find contemporary maps of the area you are searching, either online or in local libraries and archives, these can prove useful as the name today may be utterly different.
Finally, with 8 million different sets of handwriting, deciphering becomes extremely difficult and what may appear to be transcription errors (and in some cases are) occur. Thus we found one property transcribed as “Pischolme”. However, when examining the householder’s writing, the awful way he had formed the X would lead any person to transcribe it this way.
We are working on a number of ways to make searching by address simpler in face of the difficulties posed by the original records, but the unique nature of the 1911 census means these methods have had to be worked out afresh for this census, and the census is very much work in progress, although to date hundreds of thousands of researchers have successfully used the service to identify the records they want to view.
As well as applying many enhancements to the data to attempt to smooth over the inconsistencies of our ancestors, we will also release the RG78 Enumerators Summary Books soon (current estimate is April), which list the households and heads in each area: this information is invaluable for identifying neighbouring houses when the address information left by our ancestors makes this hard to recover. If you have already paid to view a household image, you will be able to view the linked Enumerators images for free, by returning to your saved records. You will not be required to make further payment to view these.
We will also be adding a wildcard search to the street field to allow you to search laterally and many more data standardisations will be applied over the coming months.