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Family missing in 1851/1861 UK censuses

I have an ancestral family who lived in England but doesn't appear in the 1851/1861 UK censuses. They do appear in the 1841 and 1871 censuses. This mystery has been unsolved for several decades.


John Williamson, a gardener in Cheltenham, married Ann Thomas in her hometown at Cradley, Herefordshire, on 17 Feb 1846. I have the civil marriage. They had two children in Cheltenham- Sarah in 1846 and Thomas in 1848. Their final child, Arthur, was born in 1852 in Leigh in the Malvern Hills. I have birth certificates for all of them, but no baptisms. In 1871 John Williamson died and this death was recorded, and later in the year the surviving members of the family appear in the census: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VBJM-ZL1 


Thank you in advance for any help

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  • Paul WPaul W ✭✭✭
    edited May 5 Accepted Answer

    Without addressing this problem specifically, I have to say it is one I have also encountered. There are some areas for which the records have been lost / destroyed**, but sometimes this issue does remain a mystery.

    The only time I have found an explanation is when a family has emigrated for a time, before returning to England. I make it a habit now of checking (particularly) the U.S. census for the "missing" time period. In the case of my relatives, it appears different branches had a coal miner as the head of the family and moved to, say, Pennsylvania to do similar work. For whatever reason, they managed to return to the north east of England some years later. Sometimes the birthplaces of their children give this confirmation, but not necessarily.

    I was surprised when I first found this practice - how did they manage to find the fare home, etc. - but one family are listed with children born in Mexico and the U.S., before making it back to England around twenty years later.

    ** I just found this article on the subject, though it doesn't appear to affect your research: https://www.findmypast.co.uk/articles/census-for-england-wales-and-scotland-missing-pieces

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