Census Night: Week 1 National Family History Month 2016 blogging challenge

4 August 2016

NFHM 2016 blog challenge badgeAlex Daw (aka FamilyTreeFrog) has set up a weekly blog challenge for National Family History Month 2016. I like blogging challenges as they usually get me writing about topics that I might not normally do. Week 1 is My Census Story – Census Night in Australia is 9 August this year. What extraordinary things have you discovered about your family history in census records?

Sadly Australia has not kept census records like other countries apart from some early convict musters and the 1828 census. However as most of us trace some or all of our ancestors back to the UK and Ireland we have used those census records to trace our families. Alex’s challenge is for ‘extraordinary’ findings but my ancestors were not all that exciting or out of the ordinary. Just basic hard working folk.

One exciting find was discovering my GGG grandmother Sarah Fegan was still alive for the 1901 Irish census. She was listed as the head of the family, a widow and a farmer who was born in the City of Dublin, she was Roman Catholic and she could read but not write. Sarah was living at house 1 in Glasnarget, Rathdrum, Wicklow.

Also living there were Patrick McCormack, her son in law, aged 32, a milesman on the railway, he could read and write,  and was born in County Wicklow. His wife Mary, aged 36, Sarah’s daughter, was described as a servant, Roman Catholic , could read and write, and was born in County Wicklow. Also living there was their son Peter J aged 8 years.

Not sure how I would feel if my mother listed me on a census form as a ‘servant’.

Sarah Fegan's handwriting in the family bible brought out to Australia by her daughter Sarah Finn nee Fegan

Sarah Fegan’s handwriting in the family bible brought out to Australia by her daughter Sarah Finn nee Fegan

Sarah Fegan gave her bible to her daughter, also called Sarah, who brought it out to Australia when she emigrated with her husband John Finn. The bible is now with Sue White, daughter of John Frederick White and Margaret Mary Jewsbury, grand daughter of  Sarah Jane Jewsbury, great granddaughter of Sarah Fegan and John Finn and great great granddaughter of Sarah Fegan (the original bible owner).

There should almost be a law against calling three generations of a family by the same given name – too many Sarah’s! Thanks to my blogs on the Finn and Fegan families, I met up with Sue White last year and was able to view Sarah Fegan’s bible. How wonderful that this treasure is still held within the family.

It is the connection between Sarah’s bible and her entry in the 1901 Irish census that I think makes this story ‘extraordinary’ and therefore meets Alex’s blogging criteria. Sarah became more real for me once I had seen her handwriting and held something that she had also held, even though that was over 130 years ago. The details in the census also gave me a sense of who she was and what she did in her life.

Census documents really do provide future generations with a sense of those who have lived in earlier generations. That’s why I will be ticking the box so that my own census return on 9 August 2016 will be retained. Will you be ticking the box too?

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  1. Hi Shauna

    Mary might have worked as a servant but not lived in the house in which she was a servant.


  2. Ooh yes. I’ll be ticking that box definitely. I love how the other members of my family saw the form and immediately handed it over to me to look after. How wonderful to have seen your ancestor’s handwriting in the bible. Those kind of moments make all the slog of family history worthwhile.

  3. Hi Shauna, Yes I will be ticking the box. Last time I was overseas and had withdrawal symptoms seeing I could not complete the form. It’s great when you get to actually see an ancestors hand writing. I just love the details found in the census however insignificant they appear. Fran

  4. When we finally got through on the census site to fill in the form we did tick that all important box.

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