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Sunday, January 15, 2012

1911 medical conditions: wife's long tongue and children's quarrelsome stubbornness

In many of the entries individuals' negative attributes are listed, rather than their illnesses.

One record, written by John Underwood from Hastings, East Sussex, describes his children as ''quarrelsome'', ''stubborn'', ''greedy'', ''vain'' and ''noisy'' while he records himself as ''bad-tempered'' and his wife as suffering from a ''long tongue''.

Another unusual entry is from Thomas Wallace Young, who was described as ''bald and toothless''.

The cause of the suffragettes is also illustrated within the records, with some women listing their infirmities as not having the vote or not being enfranchised. For example, four women living in the same household recorded their infirmities as ''voteless, therefore classed with idiots and children''.

Others chose to make a note of their good health instead of the health problems the form enquired about, giving answers such as ''well'', ''healthy'', ''sane'', ''alright'', and even ''perfect''.

Evelyn Baker and her family from Leeds were recorded in the census by their father, Addiman Parkin Barker, as simply being ''alive'' and 72 entries said of their illnesses: ''none, thank God''.

The census also shows a correlation between infirmity and occupation. The biggest source of employment for blind men and women was basket-weaving. Other trades for blind men were as musicians or musical instrument makers.

Women who were deaf and dumb were often employed within the textile or garment trades, or in domestic service, while men were most likely to be labourers.

Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: ''The infirmities column is the last piece of the jigsaw completing the 1911 census. This column alone provides a fascinating insight into life a hundred years ago.

''It not only reflects health conditions, but also a time before society became aware of political-correctness and certain terminology was deemed acceptable.

''In the more unusual entries we also get a wonderful sense of post-Edwardian humour, society and family dynamics at this time.''

Audrey Collins, family history records specialist at The National Archives, said: ''The information in the infirmities column being released today helps add an extra dimension to the picture of our ancestors' lives in 1911.

''We have to remember that the census returns were completed by relatives living in the same house who for the most part had no specialist medical knowledge.

''Their descriptions provide us with a clue as to how each individual was viewed by other family members, although many would have been reluctant to admit that their relatives suffered from any defect.''

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