Making sense of a census

Mrs. Brown was having a little snooze in her rocking chair. A knock at the door startled her.

"Who's there?" she yelled.

A male voice replied, "I am the census taker."

Without moving from her chair, the old lady asked, "What do you want?"

The man on the other side of the door answered in a rather harsh, impatient tone, "I need to take the census from the head of the household."

She retorted, "My man doesn't have any sense in his head, so be on your way!"

When did  ancestors come to New Brunswick?
Where did they come from?
When were they born?
What was their occupation?
What was their religion?
Who were their children?
Did anyone else live in the household?

Census records can often answer all or many of these questions and also provide lots of details on your ancestors.

Beginning in 1851, and every 10 years afterward, census takers went door-to-door collecting information. They were supposed to talk to the head of the household or someone who was reliable.

The first census, which gives personal information on the inhabitants of Saint John county, was taken in 1851. The 1851 census records for Saint John County, New Brunswick, has been transcribed and published. Unfortunately parts of this census records for 1851 does not exist.

Very little of the 1861 census for Saint John County has survived. There is, however, a very good census for Kings County for that year.

An index has been compiled for the 1871 census of Saint John County. In the foreword of this book, you will find an excellent guide that enables you to match up the streets with the proper ward. The 1881 and 1891 censuses for Saint John County have not been indexed.

At this time, 1901 is the most recent census that has been released, but has not been indexed for Saint John County as yet. This 1901 census is my favourite.

Each household is grouped together in the census records. It gives the name, sex, relationship to the head of household, marital status, age, occupation, religion and other data.

"Relationship to the head of household" holds the key to solving many a mystery. For example, if you don't know the maiden name of the wife, and it just so happened that her mother, father, brother or unmarried sister were living with the family, you now have your answer.

The 1851 and the 1901 census records also give the date of entry into the province of New Brunswick and from what country, for those people who were not born in New Brunswick.

If you are uncertain of the place of residence in Saint John City, check a city directory for the address. If you need the parish or ward, look in the Roe & Colby Atlas of 1875.

Don't be concerned about the spelling of the names or the ages in the census records. A name such as Wright may be written as Rite. Tays as Teas and O'Brien spelled Bryan. You need to be a good detective and check all possible spellings of surnames.  Always look at the other households in the vicinity of your ancestor. Quite often you'll find relatives living in the same area.

Some citizens were hesitant to give out information to census takers who knocked on the door. In some instances, it would seem the enumerator had personal information and added his comments, such as: second wife, senile, etc.

The Census records are on microfilm at the Saint John Free Public Library at Market Square and at the Provincial Archives in Fredericton as well as in other research institutions. Several census records have been published in book form.

Queries have been grouped together to cover the year 1998 and can be viewed at Queries-1998

Ruby Cusack is a genealogy buff living in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Readers are invited to send their New Brunswick genealogical queries to Ruby at When E-Mailing please put Yesteryear Families in the Subject line. Please include in the query, your name and postal address as someone reading the newspaper, may have information to share with you but not have access to E-mail. Queries should be no more than 45 words in length.

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