My third great-grandparents were Edward and Mary Ann Brazier and they were from the Black country in an area where Worcestershire and Staffordshire intersect and even overlap in spots. This, along with their slightly unusual surname, make them difficult to find in the census records despite their rather large family of 12 children.

1841 Census of England

The 1841 census was taken on 6 June 1841 and rounds the ages of adults to five years. We find Edward and Mary Ann in Sedgley with their three oldest children, but their surname is mistranscribed in Ancestry as Brayin. [1]Class: HO107; Piece: 998; Book: 9; Civil Parish: Sedgley; County: Staffordshire; Enumeration District: 18; Folio: 14; Page: 20; Line: 21; GSU roll: 474626

1851 Census of England

The record for the family in the 1851 census, taken 30 March 1851, was a bigger transcription mystery. Their surname Brazier is transcribed alternately as Brayer, Burin and Beazer in the same record on Ancestry! [2]Class: HO107; Piece: 2031; Folio: 75; Page: 15; GSU roll: 87438

We must compliment the transcriber though, on finding all the names in this squishy record!

1861 Census of England

By the time the 1861 census was taken on 7 April 1861, Edward had died, leaving Mary Ann a widow. By searching on only first names, we find the family transcribed as Blazer, although at least this time, they share the wrong surname. [3]Class: RG 9; Piece: 2050; Folio: 48; Page: 45; GSU roll: 542909

When we look at the handwritten record, we can’t blame the transcriber as the enumerator has recorded the surname as Blazer.

The youngest child, Miriam, has become another Mary A in the transcription as well and Enoch has become Erich.

1871 Census of England

By 1871, only Daniel is left living with Mary Ann. On 2 April 1871, the enumerator seems to have gotten the surname correct but the transcriber has somehow read Beagles.

The handwriting is perhaps a little challenging and you can see how the  mistake could be made.


Over the course of four census years, I found my Brazier family transcribed as Brayin Brayer, Burin, Beazer, Blazer and Beagles and, strangely enough, never once as Brazier!

You might be wondering how I even managed to find the family in all these records and I have to confess it took me one very long afternoon. Here are a few of my census search strategies you can try if you find yourself facing a similar challenge.

5 Census Search Strategies

1. Less is more

Try limiting the information you enter. Place names vary. Handwriting can be mis-transcribed. Ages may be recorded (or given) incorrectly. Enter the bare minimum of information and then examine the results one by one with an open mind.

2. Use wildcards

Wild cards are key in a time where many of the population were illiterate and spelling was optional. If the surname you are searching for can be spelled multiple ways then adding wildcards can find all the variants. The question mark ? can be used to replace one letter while the asterisk * can be used to replace any number of letters or none.

As an example, Brown* would find both Brown and Browne as well as Brownwell, Brownsmith, and so on. Ev*l?n* would find Evelyn, Evalyn, Eveline, or Evlyn, all spelling and transcription variations of the first name.

3. Search for unusual first names

It is far more likely that a search for Josiah or Enoch will bear fruit than a search for John or Mary. Choose the most unusual of the first names in the family to search for.

4. Try first names only

Especially helpful with large families, search on place, date and first names of the family with relationships can often turn up totally mistranscribed records

5. Try birth place and place of residence

This method is very useful if the birth place is a small town or village, rather than a large city. If you combine a search on birth place with a place of residence, you can leave out any names or dates which can sometimes pay big dividends. Enumerators and transcribers usually got the names of places right, even if everything else was wrong.

When All Else Fails

When all else fails, try doing a page by page search of where you think the family is living. I’ve had that method work more than once. Search Ancestry with just a place name and then open any record. Start on the first image in the group and search your way to the end. This is how it was done when I first started doing genealogy!

The other possibility is that you ancestor was simply missed. I’ve found sections of streets missing as though the enumerator got tired and went home and there are known missing areas from the various censuses that you can usually identify by doing a Google search for something like ‘missing 1861 Census’. In those cases, look for census alternatives such as street directories to prove where your ancestor was.


Image Credits: Ancestry


1 Class: HO107; Piece: 998; Book: 9; Civil Parish: Sedgley; County: Staffordshire; Enumeration District: 18; Folio: 14; Page: 20; Line: 21; GSU roll: 474626
2 Class: HO107; Piece: 2031; Folio: 75; Page: 15; GSU roll: 87438
3 Class: RG 9; Piece: 2050; Folio: 48; Page: 45; GSU roll: 542909
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