A Silver lining
Census records are a treasure trove of information for genealogists and can produce a number of ‘yes!’ moments of discovery.
As census-taking improved and more information became available, the task of tracking a person or a family was also made much easier.
Back in 1841 only basic details were provided such as place of residence and for those aged 20 or older, their age was rounded up or down five years. So while you could be somewhat sure you had the right family in 1841 you had to compare it with the 1851 census to have it confirmed. Mostly that works out.
As way of illustration, the follow is a transcript from the 1841 census for a farm named Crossley about 12 miles from Aberdeen in Scotland. The John Silver aged 60 is one of my great-great-great grandfathers. If interested you can click on the image at right for larger view.
1841 Crossley, Fetteresso, Kincardine, Scotland
John Silver, aged 60, farmer
Helen Silver, aged 55
Alexander Silver, aged 30, agricultural labourer
Jean Silver, aged 25, female servant
John Silver, aged 15, agricultural labourer
Isobel Falconer, aged 13, female servant
Robert Thow, aged 12, agricultural labourer
Elizabeth Taylor, aged 11, female servant
So what we have could be seen as just a list of names with ages and occupations. The next person to focus on is Alexander Silver, aged 30, who is my great-great grandfather in this line.
Because the 1841 census does not state whether a person is married or single, we have to refer to the 1851 census record or investigate marriage records to discover that.
Other people on the record to look at are Isobel Falconer, aged 13, a servant on the farm along with Robert Thow, aged 12, and Elizabeth Taylor, aged 11.
On the same page of this census entry the Silver family have as neighbours the Thow family and the Taylor family, also part of Crossley farm. Other information I have tells me that the Silver family leased Crossley, so the two other families could be joint tenants. My guess is that Robert Thow and Elizabeth Taylor were children from the neighbouring families.
But what about Isobel Falconer, aged 13? Where was she from? On the 1851 census, we find Isobel Falconer, aged 23, single, at Stripeside of Crossley with her family. Given Crossley and Stripeside of Crossley are in the same parish, we can assume they may have been neighbouring properties although that is not yet confirmed.
So the Silver family and the Falconer family most certainly were known to one another.
My Silver family is still at Crossley in 1851 where, by this time, my great-great grandfather Alexander Silver is aged 42 and still single. However in November 1851 Alexander did get married and this is a transcript of that parish record:
Maryculter marriages 1851: Silver and Falconer. Alexander Silver in this parish and Isobel Falconer in the parish of Feterresso were matrimonially contracted on the 28th November 1851 and after proclamation of banns were married on the 11th December 1851 by the Rev John Bowen, in presence of witnesses.
So now I discover that the Alexander Silver and Isobel Falconer who married in 1851 were in the same household in 1841, he as the farmer’s son and she as a farm servant.
This is further confirmed by the 1861 census where we find Alex and Isobel and children at Burnside, most likely a neighbouring farm to Crossley. There are several farms named Burnside in Aberdeenshire but Burnside Farm, Maryculter, which is closer to the River Dee than other Burnsides is the likely place. And given that many of this Silver family were buried in Maryculter on the River Dee, it’s reasonable to assume that they lived close by.
1861 census for Burnside Farm, Maryculter:
Alexander SILVER, aged 51, farmer of 60 acres born Maryculter, Kincardineshire
Isabel SILVER wife, aged 32, born Strachan, Kincardine
Helen SILVER dau, aged 8, born Maryculter, Kincardineshire
John SILVER son, aged 5, born Maryculter, Kincardineshire
Alexander SILVER son, aged 2, born Maryculter, Kincardineshire
Isabel M SILVER dau, aged 10 Mo, born Maryculter, Kincardineshire
John Copland 14
Harriet Findlay 19
John Irmay 15
Then, 10 years later, the family is back at Crossley.
1871 census for Crossley, Fetteresso, Kincardine:
Alexander Silver head married, aged 61, farmer of 150 Acres 80 Arable Employs 2 Men 2 woman born Maryculter, Kincardine
Isabella Silver wife married, aged 44 years, born Strachan, Kincardine
Hellen Silver daughter unmarried, aged 18, farmer’s daughter Maryculter, Kincardine
John Silver son, aged 14, farmer’s son Maryculter, Kincardine
Alexander Silver son, aged 12, scholar Maryculter, Kincardine
Isabella M Silver daughter, aged 10, Maryculter, Kincardine
James Silver son, aged 7, Maryculter, Kincardine
Ann Fraser servant, aged 16, domestic servant Fetteresso, Kincardine
Robert McKilligan servant unmarried, aged 29, Nigg
William Duncan servant, aged 14, farm servant Glatt? Aberdeenshire
So the 1871 reveals their youngest child is James Silver, who is my great-grandfather.
Alexander SILVER M, aged 71 M Maryculter, Kincardine, Scotland Rel: Head occ: Farmer Of 120 Acres 80 Arable Employs 2 Men 2 Girls 1 Boy
lsabella SILVER M, aged 53 F Strachan, Kincardine, Scotland Rel: Wife
Hellen SILVER U, aged 28 F Maryculter, Kincardine, Scotland Rel: Daur
John SILVER U, aged 25 M Maryculter, Kincardine, Scotland Rel: Son
Alexander SILVER U, aged 22 M Maryculter, Kincardine, Scotland Rel: Son
lsabella SILVER U, aged 20 F Maryculter, Kincardine, Scotland Rel: Daur
John ROBERTSON U, aged 14 M Banchory Devenick, Kincardine, Scotland Rel: Servant
We then go on to the 1881 census (above) where we find most of the family still together but my great-grandfather is missing. However, he is not far away on Cockley farm where he is apprenticed as a carpenter. As the youngest James proved to be the ‘boldest’ in that he left for Australia sometime about 1890 and married in Brisbane in 1892 to Janet Todd who hails from Kirkbrightshire, more than 200 miles by road from Aberdeen.
So, how did they meet? There is confusion over exactly where but Janet was in service somewhere in Scotland because she spoke about it to her grandchildren.
We can only assume that James Silver moved away from Aberdeenshire to find work as a carpenter and met Janet at some point because it is clear they both arranged to travel separately to Australia where they eventually married and had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Their eldest, Margaret Isabella, was my mum’s mum.
So about 11 decades after a teenager named Isobel Falconer met and later married Alexander Silver, I came into the world and a series of circumstances led to my existence. In other reminder of the closeness of the family connections in that area, Isobel Falconer's sister, Mary Ann married Alexander Silver's first cousin James Silver, who also happened to be his second cousin.
This is where things getting really complicated but, of course, we genealogists love such discoveries. The Silver boys were maternal first cousins as their mothers were sisters and they were second cousins because their paternal grandfathers were brothers. Whew!
So, a few names and ages on a page soon becomes a family story. It’s a story that’s been repeated millions of times and underscores just how fortunate we all are to have a life.
Live it well … and do some genealogy to … there are rewards to be had.