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Volunteers Week: 1911 Census Research Project

02 June 2023

Our Research Volunteers are currently working on a project using the 1911 Census.

The purpose of this project is to establish how many shipwrights, working in the dockyard, were recorded in the 1911 census.  The team are recording the details of them all, along with their families, which will be useful in increasing our knowledge of how dockyard personnel lived.

My part of the project is to look at those shipwrights living in Chatham.  My colleague Bern is investigating those that lived in Gillingham.

Using Findmypast it is possible to search the 1911 Census using key words to narrow down the number of people found.  So, using the keywords; “Chatham” and “Shipwright”, the search found 1,796 possible matches.  Not all worked in the Dockyard, as some were listed as in the Royal Navy or working for private shipbuilders, whilst one family lived in the Shipwright Arms and were publicans.  These were filtered out when opening each entry and recording the details.

Their details were recorded on a spreadsheet, which I designed so that it can be sorted in several ways to analyse the information.  For example, into streets or places of birth.  The details were recorded from the original document (which was the first census that was completed by the head of the household) as follows:

  • House number;
  • Road;
  • Town;
  • Number of Rooms;
  • Forenames;
  • Surname;
  • Relationship to the Head of the household;
  • in the case of children their mother’s maiden name; ages; status;
  • in the case of married women, how long they had been married and how many children they had given birth to, and how may were living and how many had died;
  • Personal Occupation;
  • Industry;
  • Work Status;
  • Whether Working from Home;
  • Birthplace;
  • Nationality (if not British);
  • and, finally a column for any notes.

The details from the original document were then checked against the transcribed version.  These did not always tally and sometime needed a little further investigation into the correct spelling of some of the entries.

When their details are recorded, we then use the General Register Office to find the mother’s maiden name of any children listed.  Sometimes this is not as easy as it sounds and very often the mother’s maiden name has been spelt in different ways for all her children!

This may sound rather tedious, but it is amazing how much information we are gleaning; it has certainly been an eye opener for me.

It makes you wonder what kind of lives they led with up to seven or eight people living in four rooms; generations of the same family in one house; and, the surprising number of women who lost some of her children (one poor woman lost five of her six children, we can only imagine the heartbreak at that).   It is also interesting to note the number of retired Shipwrights listed in the workhouse, how were they reduced to that?

It is also interesting to see that although some of the old names have made a comeback recently others such as Hepzibah, Zillah, Honour, Milduria and Ebenezer have passed into history.

It also makes me wonder, how many young men listed would have been called up to serve in the First World War, and how many survived.

With thanks to Roger James McKenna, from the Research Volunteers for writing this blog post.



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