1831 census of Melrose book – a really good resource

Census returns that genealogists use focus on the 1841 onwards period. Before then it was not a requirement for census enumerators to compile a list of names, and although some were compiled, usually to help the enumerators count the local population, they were normally thrown away after the basic numbers had been worked out and recorded. But a few survive, and one of these is the 1831 census for Melrose parish. The original records are among the kirk session records for Melrose.

Graham and Emma Maxwell have transcribed and indexed this 1831 Melrose census, and published it in book form. It’s an A4 format book, with 29 pages of main content as well as an index of names at the back. Note it also includes Lindean (part of Galashiels parish).

An important thing to realise is that it isn’t a list of all names in the parish, but rather a list of heads of households, along with other information about their households. So for example it tells you whether the individual families are involved in trade or agriculture, how many males and females there are, how many males above 20 years involved in what work areas, numbers of male and female servants, and numbers of children under 10. This information is presented in the book in tabular form which works well.

So, for example, picking an example from my extended Usher family tree, this 1831 census reveals that Thomas Usher hawker in Newstead had 3 males and 2 females in his household, the 3 males above 20 years, and no servants. Or for another example, my 6xg-uncle John Blaikie skinner in Darlingshaugh had 2 males and 3 females in his household, 1 of the males (him) involved in manufacturing, and another in trade. At this time John Blaikie was not married (he would marry in 1833) and his children were still to be born. By contrast Mr Wilson at Lindean had 11 people in his household: 3 males, 8 females, including 5 female servants, and 2 children under 10 years of age.

Such examples are useful, but more so if you can link up the somewhat sparse details with more known information about families, for example children recorded in baptism registers etc. And because the census lists the families by place you can quickly get an indication of population spread, occupational patterns, and distribution of different trades, which makes the book of potential interest to other historians than genealogists alone.

I would strongly recommend that anyone with Melrose connections from this time period buys a copy of this book. If you want to check first to see if your ancestors are likely to be recorded in this census Graham and Emma have provided an online index of surnames.

Author: vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.

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