Tuesday 25 October 2016

It makes no census to me. Count me out

John Masterson

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Census 2016
Census 2016

I was out of the country on Census Day and I am very peeved about it. It is a bit like being invited to a party, not being able to go, and no one misses you or gives a damn.

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The very nice lady from the census did call to me and give me a form that took about two seconds to fill out and will let the world know in 2016 that I was in Florida with friends, people who are also unrecorded for posterity; our religion, education etc are not recorded.

This seems particularly unfair as we were a fairly colourful lot who would have added greatly to the richness of the country being studied by the historians of the future.

I don't see why I couldn't have filled out all of the data that they are so keen for, and put me in the mix with a note that I was temporarily away. In counting how many people use the road daily, I should be included so that we make the cut when they decide to put new tarmac on it, and/or build an atheist graveyard nearer home. I live in the middle of nowhere and my neighbours need the numbers.

The personal data in the census remained private for a century. I know people who have had hours of endless fun figuring out things about their forbears from the the 1901 and 1911 Census which is available to browse online.

Like many people I knew a reasonable amount about my parents, but it gets hazier back further. Two of my grandparents had died before I was born.

I knew that my mother had three siblings and that two died of scarlet fever in childhood. What I did not know were the circumstances of my maternal grandmother's family. She came to live with us when she was 62 and was part of our family until she died eight years later.

We knew she had a younger sister who we saw occasionally, a brother in Limerick who never visited, and a brother in Australia who was long gone.

What she never mentioned, and we did not know until the 1911 Census was released, was that she was one of 10 children. The other six had all died in childhood.

Massive changes in society are evident across those two generations. Family relations must have differed when more than half of the children did not make it beyond a few years. It looks like some of my grandmother's family were farmed out to relations. The 'normal' family of dad, mum and a few children is a TV sitcom creation and was no more normal a century ago than now.

While there may have been no divorce there was early death. Contraception seems kinder than fever. Parents must have had to be stoic and practical rather than caring and loving in dealing with their children.

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