Why can’t I find my 4x great grandfather in the census?

Professional genealogist Katherine Cobb helps a reader find an ancestor in the 1851 census

1851 census

My 4x great grandfather, Edward Wilson, married Mary Knibb in 1838 in Marylebone, giving his father’s name as William (a warehouseman). He is a servant. The couple had eight children but only two survived into adulthood, one of them my 3x great grandfather Edward Henry. In 1850 they registered the birth of a daughter in Hulme, Manchester, and Edward is described as a commercial traveller. I found Mary on the 1851 census in Hulme with their daughter, but by 1853 they are in Lambeth where Edward registered the birth of a daughter. He describes himself as a “gentleman”.
I can’t find Edward on any census.

James Massingham

Since Wilson is a relatively common surname and you have neither a birthplace nor approximate year of birth for Edward, he really needs to be located in a census. Try using more than one website for your searches, because results can differ. Use the address search on findmypast.co.uk to check all addresses associated with the family. Another option is to search for Edward’s children in 1861, or his son in 1851; if found, they may lead to their father.

If Edward remains elusive, try entering ‘traveller’ in the occupation or keyword field, or indeed ‘coachman’ as he is listed at the baptism of their daughter Elizabeth Wilson in 1848. The subscription website thegenealogist.co.uk is particularly good for searching using occupation, because it is the only site that has indexed occupation across all of the censuses, and I think I may have found your Edward as a visitor at 11 Great Windmill Street in Westminster (see image above). This may well be a coaching inn since the head of the household is James Ferdinand, a publican, and a number of lodgers are described as grooms while Edward (a visitor rather than a lodger) is listed as a coachman.

He is listed as 33, making his date of birth approximately 1818. This fits in with him being “of full age” at his wedding in 1838. His place of birth is listed as Manchester, which may explain the connection with Hulme. Since Edward was born after 1812, his father will have his occupation or trade listed. This should help identify the right candidate. There is an excellent collection of Manchester parish registers on ancestry.co.uk. I searched for Edward with father William and found a record from 26 July 1818 with the father’s occupation as warehouseman. His mother is Elizabeth. I suspect that this is your 4x great grandfather Edward.

Katherine Cobb