Over the years, since I have been writing this blog, I often utter the phrase “What shall I write today?” and mostly, the answer from my audience is “I don’t know” or a variation on that theme (particularly from Mr FWL). Which made me wonder: How many people didn’t know their own place of birth when completing a census? Was there anyone whose birth or death was registered as ‘not known’? (I am pretty certain their marriage wouldn’t be!)
Using FreeBMD, I very quickly discovered the answer to my second question – just one. Not Known‘s death was registered in Bolton Registration District (RD) in December quarter 1840. Unknown (as a surname) is used far more frequently to register deaths when the identity of the person is, as it would suggest, unknown. Interestingly, some of them have first names but some are registered as ‘sex not known unknown‘ – one wonders how this is possible? I think, from initial research, that ‘unknown unknown‘ would be a crazy single name study to do and I am guessing that they were not all related….??! Another rather odd death was ‘not named Meadows‘ in March quarter 1839 in Depwade (RD), presumably because a child was born and died without being named, as there is a corresponding birth in the same quarter for ‘Male Meadows‘.
The number of people who responded in the 1911 census – completed by a householder – by stating that they did not know where they were born is quite staggering. Patients in institutions were sometimes registered with a birth place of ‘N K‘, particularly in asylums and prisons, but many other residents had seemingly no idea where they were born! Some were adopted children, some were elderly but they and others would surely have known their origins…. if nothing else, just roughly?
Sometimes searching for keywords brings up some entertaining snippets including Arthur Goffey in Leicester who, when asked to record his marital status wrote ‘don’t know wife away for over 7 years‘. Poor Arthur – I wonder what he did about his situation? He died in September quarter 1927. Did Mrs Goffey ever return?