Tuesday 4 December 2018

Populations Past – Atlas of Victorian and Edwardian Population

The Populations Past – Atlas of Victorian and Edwardian Population website and data came to my attention in a blog post by John Reid (Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections) on 29 November 2018. Thanks John!

What struck me in particular was that the host of the site and source of some of the data used is CAMPOP, the University of Cambridge project, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. I have just completed an article about the History of Occupations, using information from several Cambridge Group studies. It will be published in Family Tree (UK) magazine next year. So, I was delighted and intrigued to find even more depth to their website.

As John indicated, and as described in the Population Past overview, the “website allows users to create and view maps of different demographic measures and related socio-economic indicators every 10 years between 1851 and 1911. These include fertility, childhood mortality, marriage, migration status, household compositions, age-structure, occupational status and population density.” These are powerful data that will greatly assist in unravelling family histories during the second half of the 19th century. The analyses also show other aspects of using such census data that many of us may not have thought about.

Of importance in this time period, “The second half of the nineteenth century . . . was a time of transformation from a relatively 'high pressure' demographic regime characterised by medium to high birth and death rates to a 'low pressure' regime of low birth and death rates, a transformation known as the 'demographic transition'.” We are fortunate, in terms of British family history, to have such detailed data from censuses and civil registration files for births, deaths and marriages. As genealogists, we are also lucky to have access to studies such as those done and published by the Cambridge Group researchers.

The work is still in progress but there are some interesting results and trends already available, especially the data from employment. One can review information about workers by socio-economic status, skilled versus unskilled occupations of men and employment of women and children.

I had a look at all the data from Plympton St. Mary Registration District in Devon. This is the area from which my Shepheard ancestors came, so it presented an opportunity to look at the censuses from a different perspective.

The region is defined as agricultural, based on its occupational structure and population density. Between 1851 and 1911, it did not change much in character, having its lowest density of 0.21 persons per acre in 1851 and its highest in 1911 at 0.30 persons per acre. There was never much in the way of manufacturing industry. Most of the occupations are related to farming, including tradesmen and labourers. Farm labourers and other unskilled workers, did drop from about 48% of all working-age men in 1851 to 40% in 1911. Skilled and semi-skilled workers rose from 29% of the male workforce to 35% in the same time period. Professionals and non-manual skilled workmen stayed about the same, between 20% and 23%. Those numbers are consistent with what I have uncovered through examinations of parish registers.

In terms of working women, the region was probably not unlike many others in England and Wales. Almost half of working-age women were employed as domestic servants throughout the record period; 60% of all single women worked for wages. In 1851, 38% of widows were employed, dropping to 28% by 1911 – not a large difference.

Child employment was high, not unexpectedly. More than 40% of boys and 21% of girls aged 14 to 18 were recorded as full-time workers on every census. In 1851, 17% of boys and 6% of girls between 10 and 13 were employed. That dropped to 3% and 1%, respectively by 1911.

Mortality was very high for infants and young children: well over 10% failed to reach their first birthday and another 7% did not attain the age of five years. Those numbers were fairly consistent from 1851 to 1911. Nationally, the death rates were around 15% for infants. Young children fared better, dropping from 15% to about 7% between 1851 and 1911.

There is a lot of other information to be discovered about family structure, fertility and households, all broken down by registration district across England and Wales and accessible using an indexed map. It is not impossible to spend hours reviewing data from parishes in which ancestors lived.

Anyone with British ancestors is well-advised to have a look at the website.