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Recently I discovered that I had “missed” two children in a family on my family tree. How did I discover this? Through the 1911 UK Census for the parents of the family.

Not only was the 1911 UK Census the first census to be released as the original documents filled out by the household, not as a collation of data in the Enumerators Return Book, but it was also the first census to ask about “fertility in marriage”, namely how many years married, how many children that marriage had produced, how many were still alive, and how many had died. As such, it is possible for family researchers to potentially find out about “missing” children, and also, to help narrow down possible years of death for the children.

Just because a child’s name appears on one census and not on the next does not necessarily mean a death has occurred. Depending on their age, the child may have left home for work reasons, or have been sent to live with extended family, and checks of census records in the wider area, and of known family could help confirm this. Departure from the family census can also mean marriage of course.

So, what does that have to do with my two “missed” children? With the family in question, I had been able to easily find out about 10 children thanks to the 1871, 1881, 1891 & 1901 census records, and had also been able to trace time frames for the departure from the family home. I had so far been able to trace six of them with reasonable confidence, two of them had died and four had married, the other four known children I was still in the process of tracking down.

Then I found the 1911 census for the parents, and saw confirmation that all 10 children had left home…. oh wait, 12 children, 6 living, 6 deceased. I’m “missing” two children. Six deceased, ok I knew about 2 of the deceased, but if I only knew about 10 children, then that means I can reasonably infer that the 2 “missing” are also deceased, and may have died as infants or children having been born after one census and dying before the next. But how do I go about finding these two knowing essentially nothing about them except who their parents were.

Through cross referencing a combination of searches on a variety of genealogical websites, I believe I have found one of the two children, a young lass who appears to have died in infancy having been registered with both births and deaths within the same year but in separate registration quarters. The other child may take time to trace, and I have to be aware of a number of things in my searching for them.

  • Can I see any gaps of three or more years between the known birth years that might show a place for another child to be born?
  • If there are no obvious gaps, could the child have been a twin with only one surviving? Checking for a second birth registration in the same location and same period as a known birth could provide clues to this.
  • If the child died before the birth could be registered, it may be that only a death was registered, so I shouldn’t discount zero aged deaths that have no corresponding birth register.
  • Registration of a stillborn child prior to 1927 in the UK did not occur, and so there may be no official record of the birth or death at all.
  • Lastly, but probably most importantly, given the age of the parents in 1911, and the size of the family, can I trust that they have recalled the number of children correctly? Does the other information they have provided appear to tally up with the already known information?

The 1911 UK Census is of course not the only way to find out about the genealogically missing.

  • Depending on the year and country, a child’s birth certificate may indicate older siblings.
  • A death certificate will usually (depending on country of issue) indicate the names and ages of living offspring, as well as the number & gender of offspring already deceased – sometimes with names.
  • Marriages may have been witnessed by family members whose names will then appear on the certificate, a father’s name will usually have been recorded. A witness with the same surname may be a sibling, an Aunt or Uncle, a Cousin, or even an in-law. Remember also, in the early 1800’s the population was much smaller and marrying a cousin or second cousin wasn’t unheard of.
  • Wills and Probate records can show up skeletons in the closet by naming living heirs unknown by other family members.
  • Shipping records and Passenger lists can indicate potential relationships by checking for common addresses amongst passengers.
  • Family gravestones may provide details of an infant’s death not able to be found elsewhere
  • Military records, criminal records, and land records may also provide clues and should not be discounted

If all else fails, find a discussion board or facebook group relating to family history in the area of the world your “missing” person is likely to be in, and ask for assistance. Give them all the details that you have and let them know where you have searched, then ask for suggestions on where else you might be able to search for information. Good Luck in your searching.