Discovering Your Family History - Using the Census

Laying the gas main outside the Black Dog, 28 July 1911 

Of all the sources available to family and local historians the census schedules of the period 1841-1911 are among the most useful and revealing. Latterly, indexes and electronic databases have taken away much of the drudgery of searching these voluminous documents and quite quickly you can build up a picture ofyour ancestors in Victorian and Edwardian times.

In this country from 1801 a census has been taken every ten years with the exception of 1941 when more important matters intervened. Initially, only statistical information was required but from 1841 the questions needed personal details. From then until 1911 the census schedules for England and Wales are publicly accessible and provide a wealth of detail for historians.

From 1851, the census forms required from each household the name of each person resident on census night with their relationship to the head of the house. A man and his wife would be listed first followed by their children, any other family members, servants, lodgers and visitors. The age, occupation and place of birth of each person would also be recorded. Not only private houses were listed but also boarding schools, workhouses, hospitals, army barracks, ships in port and so forth.

For Yapton, the enumerator’s schedules provide a snapshot of the village captured at a moment in time. The population of the parish in 1911 was 760 and the census gives us a record of the social composition, the age profile and the occupational structure.

Usually, you can use the census returns alongside other contemporary documents such as parish registers and trade directories to provide a detailed insight into the lives of local people and their community. For Yapton in 1911 we are assisted, too, by a superb collection of photographs coming from a rather unusual source.

In the summer of that year the Bognor Gas, Light & Coke Company was busy building its new gas works at Shripney and also laying new gas mains through Bognor, Yapton, Barnham and Eastergate. lt captured the process in a series of photograph albums that give glimpses of contemporary landscape and lifestyle.

Villagers are shown watching the men at work and in the background we see some of the shops, businesses and public houses that appear on the census.

The Black Dog, now The Olive Branch, was then owned by the Mitcham & Cheam Brewery. lt was occupied by Edmund Caiger, aged 38, and his wife, Charlotte, with their three small children, Rose, Daisy and Edward. lt appears in Licensing Registers as a beerhouse rather than an inn or public house.


The Post Office, 31 July 1911

Bakers & grocers, Church Road, 1 August 1911

Pictured next door to each other are a bakery and a grocers shop. William Henry Geall owned the bakers and also had a shop in Bognor. The grocers shop was run by Ada Collins, widow of William who had died in 1907, helped by her two grown up children, also called William and Ada. Her younger son, Ronald, coincidentally was employed as a Clerk at the Gas Works.

The village Post Office is also pictured. There were then three deliveries and three collections a day according to Kelly’s Directory. James Diggance was sub-postmaster. His was a busy life for the census shows he combined this role with running a drapers shop aided by his 79 year old grandmother, Fanny.

Church Lane looking towards the church, 9 August 1911

If you are interested in family or local history, do come along to the County Record Office in Orchard Street, Chichester. We are open six days a week and visiting is free. You will find the sources you need and the expert staff to set you off on your research.

Alan Readman

Alan Readman is the County Archivist based at the West Sussex Record Ofiice, Orchard Street, Chichester. PO19 1DD. Tel: 01243 753602. Email:

(Originally published in Yapton News, March 2013)