In the Census...



One of the things in genealogy that turns me absolutely green with envy, is the availability of census information for Britain and the USA. Before censuses, musters were the most common way of recording information about the population. However census records contain much more detailed information such as the specific address, who is the head of the household, who is living in the house at the time of the census date, their relationship to the head of house, everyone's age, where they were born, and their occupations. For genealogists, census records are a valuable source of information.

The earliest systematic collection of information about Australia's residents occurred in 1788, with the colonies and states regularly collecting data via musters or censuses, up until the first Australian national census in 1911, ten years after Federation.

However, in 1892, all surviving Victorian census records...were pulped. Pulped! There are a few records that contain small amounts of information however, they are much too early or too late for the period I'm interested in, when the majority of my ancestors arrived in Australia. 

My British ancestors stem from my paternal grandmother's grandfather's side. Whilst Thomas Henry Shorten (my 2x great grandfather) was first generation Australian, born in Tasmania in 1859, his parents were British immigrants - one voluntary, one...not so much (but that's a story for another time). 

Today I want to talk about Thomas' mother, my 3x great grandmother Jane Duce, and her families numerous census records in England which record 30 years of deceptively boring information. Jane was born in 1838 in Girton, Cambridgeshire in England to Ebenezer Duce and Elizabeth Hankin. Girton is a village of about 4500 people situated in the north-west of the city of Cambridge. It has had a long history as a village, with people living there in pre-Saxon times though the old name was 'Gretton,' meaning 'village on the gravel.' 

Map showing locations of Dry Drayton, Girton and Cambridge. Source: Google Maps

At the time of the 1841 census, Jane was 2 years old. She and her younger sister Mary who was just 4 months old at the time, were living with their parents Ebenezer (aged 23) and Elizabeth (aged 22) in the parish of Dry Drayton, where Ebenezer was working as an agricultural labourer.  Dry Drayton lies about 2 kilometres west of Girton, and about 8 kilometres northwest of Cambridge. Their surname was recorded as 'Douce.'

1841 Census showing entry for Ebenezer Duce and family 

Comments on the notes section describe the area covered - 
"All that part of the parish of Dry Drayton commencing at the Eastern extremity of the Village on the Road leading [...] St. Neots Roads including the houses in the North and South East of the same Street with the two farms called New Scotland and Edinborough lying about 2 miles distance from the Village. Also the Village of Childerley on the south west of Dry Drayton containing 13 houses in all."
Two houses or so down the road, lived Ebenezer's parents.  His father, James, was 50 years old and also employed as an agricultural labourer, with his mother Jane Duce (nee Hills) who was also 50. They lived with their son William (aged 25), their grand-daughter Mary Taylor (10 years old, daughter of Susanna Duce and John Taylor), and James' mother Alice, aged 75. This family grouping in and of itself represents why census information is so valued - this record alone contains information regarding 4 generations!

1841 Census showing entry for Ebenezer's parents, James and Jane Duce.

1851 brought about many wonderful things in England including the Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of All Nations in the Crystal Palace; the discovery of Ariel and Umbriel, the moons of Uranus by William Lassell; the laying of the first protected submarine telegraph cable in the England Channel; and the United Kingdom census of that year was the first to include detailed ages, dates of birth, occupations, and marital status of those listed. The population had reached, at this stage, 21 million with 6.3 million people living in cities of 20,000 or more in England and Wales with such cities accounting for 35% of the total English population. In contrast, as a result of the Great Irish Famine, the population of Ireland had fallen to 6,575,000 - a drop of 1.6 million in ten years.

1851 Census showing entry for Ebenezer Duce and family

Mr. Benjamin Impey, labourer, notes at the beginning of the 1851 census for the parish of Dry Drayton : "All that part of the parish of Dry Drayton commencing at the Huntingdon Road and with the lane on the north side there to the Church." Ebenezer and Elizabeth (surname spelt Duce) are now 33 years old, raising their family of three - Jane, now 12; Mary, now 9 and John aged 1 - in a cottage in the village. In the past ten years, the area had indeed built up with many more families added to the census.

Ebenezer's parents, James and Jane (aged 70 and 67 years old, respectively - apparently they gained a few more than ten years, as they are really 60 and 57!) are living in a cottage in the village . James' mother Alice, had passed away a year after the previous census at the age of 76, and their son William and grand-daughter Mary Taylor are no longer living with them. Instead a lodger named Mr John Amps, a 57 year old widow who was employed as a shepherd and who hailed from Toft, Cambridgeshire, was  listed as living with them. James and Jane themselves were listed as paupers however, I believe in this context rather than meaning that they were destitute, it meant they were senior citizens.

1851 Census entry showing James and Jane Duce, and their lodger Mr John Amps.

This was the last census that Ebenezer and Elizabeth appear in as they migrated to Tasmania, Australia in 1855 as indentured servants, with their passage paid for by Mr. Dowling. Indentured servitude is when a person is under contract to work for another for a definite period of time, usually without pay but in exchange for free passage to a new country. The story of Ebenezer Duce and his daughter Jane, will be featured in another blog post in the future.

James and Jane Duce, Ebenezer's parents, continued on in Dry Drayton however, and were still alive and kicking ten years later when the next census arrived in the UK. In 1861, they apparently had aged very little, listing their ages as 78 and 75 years old (which is their actual age!) In a time where the average life expectancy was about 40-45 years, James and Jane Duce were doing pretty well.

1861 Census entry for James and Jane Duce

Amazingly, they lived to make it to the 1871 census - where James was an astonishing 90 years old and Jane was 88. They were still living in a cottage in the village of Dry Drayton, where their children were born and where James worked his whole life as an Agricultural Labourer. Jane passed away that September, followed three months later by her husband.

1871 census entry for James and Jane Duce

While seemingly boring and reiterating the same information, we know from these census records that James was born in Dry Drayton and had a wife named Jane who was born in Bluntisham Cum Earith in Huntingdon, England. James' mother Alice, his son William, and his granddaughter, Mary lived them for an unknown period of time, while their son Ebenezer lived close by in the village of Dry Drayton, with his wife Elizabeth and their children Jane, Mary, and John. James and Ebenezer were employed as agricultural labourers. After the death of his mother and after Mary and William had moved out, James and Jane took on a lodger, possibly to supplement their income. After their son Ebenezer and his family migrated to Australia, James and Jane remained in the village of Dry Drayton for the remainder of their long lives. That's an amazing amount of information to be gleaned in 30 years worth of relatively bland census records!


My connection to the Duce family


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