• Finding Martha

    The First Searches

    The searches and images shown were created using the Ancestry website.

    My first census searches revolved around finding Martha. I knew that she married during the 1880s but apart from knowing her approximate age at marriage (from her marriage certificate) I knew nothing more about her early years. It was only through working back in time using census searches that I could narrow down the search for her birth and discover more about her.

    With at least two mis-transcriptions (and still missing from the 1871 census) the search for Martha could only be successful by refining the search for her each time.

    Each illustration shows exactly what information was entered in the search box. The text alongside explains how I decided to use the search criteria shown. These refined searches show how even a novice can achieve results.

    Note: Screenshots have been created using the old search box available on Ancestry, if your default settings are to the new search box you can easily revert to the older system to replicate the searches shown below.

    If you need help with finding a relative in a census, then you can always find someone to help by posting a request for help on the Research Advice Forum.

    The 1901 Census Search

    As if to demonstrate that "less is more" when it comes to census searches, my first census search was done with very little background information. Just a name and age plus a suspected area where she may have lived was enough to find Martha.

    I knew the name Martha Chambers and 1855 for an approximate year of birth I suspected that she was living in Lincoln (she married there in 1885). The census image also gave me the name of one of her children, and showed she was in the same parish in 1901 as the one she married in during 1885.

    This additional information can help when you search the earlier census years.


    By using the search criteria demonstrated in the above illustration this is the result found.

    Viewing the image confirmed it was the correct one:


    The 1891 Census Search

    The 1891 search was a difficult one to refine.

    There were no likely matches for members of the Chambers family in Lincoln (and I knew from certificates that the family were in Lincoln at the time). This gives a big clue that the surname has been mis-transcribed.

    The details from the 1901 result and the 1885 marriage certificate were for the same parish. Could this be a clue?

    The search criteria entered as Martha residing in St Mary Le Wigford in Lincoln born in 1855 with a spouse called George did the trick.


    An alternative option would be to search the entire parish image by image, to see a visual guide for locating a parish visit Census address search.


    No it isn't the wrong illustration! The index does indeed say Martha Gresham. The image however is in the name Chambers - the error is in the index. You must view an image just to make sure as there are times you will find errors in the index.

    The 1881 Census Search

    The 1881 census was the first pre-marriage census return for Martha.

    My major problem was her place of birth, two different counties are recorded in the previous census returns so to be certain I searched for her birth in the birth index. This confirmed that Norfolk was the correct county and the year was 1855.

    I couldn't find a match when using her surname (Elmer) so tried a wildcard search. This worked well and saved hours of entering slight variations of surname spellings.

    The search criteria entered was as follows: Forename Martha surname Elm** born 1855 in Norfolk.


    This gave just one likely result:


    Again Martha is incorrectly transcribed. Her full name is Martha Thorbon Elmer - the correct place and year of birth helped swing the decision.

    The 1861 Census Search

    The 1861 census places Martha in her home county along with her parents and siblings.

    Through the census searches I had followed Martha through a marriage, births of children and three counties. Quite a trip, but the census returns helped to locate her birth record and the marriage for her parents.

    Just to demonstrate a slightly different technique this search uses different criteria. The results (in the lower illustration) reflect the different search technique.

    The only information entered shows Surname, year of birth, county of birth and name of father.


    The results screen (enlarged for clarity) list two members of the family.

    Martha is listed at the top (due to the year of birth being an exact match).

    Elizabeth is listed at the bottom of the illustration. Her year of birth is different, hence being listed further down the results.


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