Category Archives: Historical records

Over-enthusiastic form-filling helps fill in the gaps

Filling in forms can be confusing and so mistakes creep in. Errors made on the forms for the 1911 census can still be seen today, and these can be very helpful to a family history researcher. In earlier censuses, forms completed by householders were copied into a summary book by an enumerator and the originals were destroyed, but in 1911 the originals were kept, showing the householder’s signature and any errors they made.

I recently came across a 1911 census return for John King of 18 Quinn’s Buildings, Essex Road, Islington who recorded the full addresses where each of his children had been born, not just the required name of the town and county.They were:

Jessie King, aged 15, bookbinder, born 52 Winslade Road, Clapton, London.

John Edward King, aged 13, born 105 Malborough Road, Holloway, London.

Elizabeth Rose King, aged 10, born 39 Canning Road, Finsbury, London.

Bert King, aged 5, born 5 Elton Road, Newington Green, London.

Florence King, aged 3, born 17 Quinns Buildings, Islington, London.

Such ‘errors’ are extremely useful for anyone tracing the family.

Other errors found in the 1911 census forms include widowers/widows giving details of how many years they were married and how many children they had, even though this was not required.

If an enumerator had copied out the forms, as they had in previous censuses, this information would not have been included and would have been lost to later researchers.


I sincerely hope to see them all in court!

Court records can provide a level of detail not found elsewhere.

The website for the proceedings of the Old Bailey offers full transcriptions of all cases held at the Central Criminal Court from 1674-1913. Statements are recorded verbatim, so it allows us to see the words spoken by witnesses, prosecutors and defendants alike.

Take the case of Joseph Catling Gibbons, aged 52, who was tried for bigamy on 20th October 1890. He was being prosecuted by the wife of his bigamous marriage, who said:

I became acquainted with the prisoner two years ago, and went out with him for five Sundays—some information then came to me, and I wrote him a letter breaking off the acquaintance, and ceased to keep company with him about Christmas, 1888 about September, 1889, I met him and asked him if he knew me—he said, “What! after the letter you wrote to me?”—I said, “I wrote that in a temper; are you a married man?”—he said, “I have no time to speak to you now”—I said I would see him the next night—I met him the next evening, and he said, “I hope I may be struck dead if I am not a single man”—I then walked out with him till we were married on 8th July in the registry at Whitechapel—I lived with him six weeks at my mother’s house up to a fortnight ago; I was then told something, and went and saw his wife—that is her (pointing) I gave him in charge the same evening.

One of the witnesses was Rose S Hales, Joseph’s daughter. She told the court:

…the prisoner is my father, and the lady who has been produced is his wife—they have been parted for sixteen year—he allowed her 2s. a week up to Christmas last—she lives in the same house with me—my father called there about four months ago, and saw my mother and me; I cannot give the date accurately—he came to see his son’s baby, which was three days old—it was born four months ago—my mother was in good health at the time.

She later said:

you allowed her 2s. a week for ten weeks in the year, when you were at the Drury Lane pantomime—you were pantaloon there.

This kind of detail is rarely found in family papers, and cannot be deduced from census entries alone. It gives a clear insight into the dramas of this family (no pun intended).

Joseph Catling Gibbon’s defence was:

I left my wife eighteen years ago owing to her misconduct; she has lived with three different men, and has had several children, and I thought she was dead.

Rose Hales further stated that:

her mother had two children by another man, one of which was seven and the other two years old.

Joseph Catling Gibbons was an actor throughout his life. He used the stage name Tully Louis. There is a newspaper report in the Pall Mall Gazette on the 28 October 1890, found using the British Newspaper Archive at findmypast, which refers to his court case for bigamy under his stage name, confirming that they are one and the same. Tully Louis was a well-known pantomimist and comic actor of his time.

He perhaps wasn’t as much the injured party as he suggested at the Old Bailey. He married his first wife in 1860. By the 1871 census she was living with their two daughters and described herself as a ‘widow’. Joseph appears to have been missed off (or mistranscribed) in this census. In 1881, however, he records himself under his stage name, Tully Louis, and was living with Charlotte Louis and their 3 children, Eugene, Nellie and Josephine. There is no evidence of him having married Charlotte.

Six months after the hearing at the Old Bailey, the 1891 census was taken. Joseph was recorded under the name ‘Joseph Catling’ and lived with 6 children all with the Catling surname (including Eugene, Nellie and Josephine). His youngest son was 3 years old, so he must have been born shortly before Joseph began courting the unsuspecting Caroline Wooton in 1888. It seems that Caroline was ignorant of his first wife, so it seems likely she was also unaware of his 6 children and relationship with Charlotte.

Here’s proof of the tantalising glimpses court records can give into the lives of your ancestors. A criminal in your past can be of great use in providing new insights into your family history.

‘A picturesque and amusing document’

From 1810 Huntingdon Quarter Sessions, HRO

Articles of Peace exhibited by Joseph Thorpe and Sarah his wife, of Holywell with Needingworth against Thomas Jones of Holywell for threatening language. “I would not mind killing you (meaning the Exhibitant) no more than I would the worst Vermin as crawls – I would wring your (meaning this Exhibitant) Neck as I would a Crow….. tomorrow is the Jubilee and we mean to have a large Bonfire and a Stake drove down in the middle and we shall tie you (meaning this Exhibitant) to that Stake and burn you (meaning this Exhibitant) to ashes and it will be ten times hotter than Hell.”

Description of ‘a picturesque and amusing document’ in Huntingdonshire Archives, reference HCP/1/5. Looks well worth a read!