My maternal grandmother used to tell me stories. Stories of her youth, her brothers and sisters, her parents and her growing up years in Ramsgate, Kent England.
I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about Grandma Ruth. I loved hearing about her father who drove a coal wagon, but who suffered from epileptic seizures, often during his deliveries. His horse knew the route so well it would carry on house to house until the route was done, then bring my great-grandfather back home.
Her mother ran a boarding house. Grandma was sickly as a child and developed a tick, a nervous little cough and shake of the head. One of her brothers died as a teenager. And on and on it went. Grandma told me the same stories so many times I had them memorized.
I was lucky when I began my genealogy quest into her lines, I knew her grandparents' names, I knew where her ancestors were born, where they lived, what their occupations were. I knew all about Grandma's siblings, in fact I met several of them during my own childhood.
But yesterday I decided to search the 1911 census online on 1911census.co.uk I hadn't done this before because I figured I wasn't really going to learn anything new so why pay for credits to see the image(s). I say images because my maternal grandfather was also born in England and he too would be in that 1911 census as a teenager. But I was pretty darn sure there was absolutely nothing *new* I could add to my knowledge of the families from the 1911 census.
I was wrong.
The 1911 census for 10 Chapel Place, Ramsgate showed my grandmother Ruth as a 17 year old. Her siblings at home were as expected - Lilian, 25 and Sydney, 12. Her grandmother Sarah Simpson, a 70 year old widow, lived with the family. And her father David and mother were also listed, her mother's occupation shown as a boarding house keeper. But there were two surprises and a few interesting new facts.
Surprise #!: my great grandmother who I knew as Sarah Jane Simpson, listed herself as "Jane". I'd never heard her referred to by her middle name. Since she is the person who signed as having filled out the form, I'm going to assume she knew what name others called her.
Surprise #2: My grandmother Ruth was listed as being a milliner in a showroom. I never knew she made and sold hats! Why didn't she ever talk about that? I have seen photos of her beautifully dressed as a youngster and as a married woman. Her two little girls were also in beautifully crafted outfits that I was pretty sure she had made personally and I saw her knit and crochet and tat and do all kinds of beautiful sewing but I never knew she made her living at it. I have an entirely new mental picture now of my grandmother as a teenage girl.
New Fact: I knew the family lived at 10 Chapel Place in Ramsgate but I never knew how many rooms they had in their home. That information is provided in the 1911 census. I see that my great-grandmother Sarah (I mean Jane!) Simpson wrote that there were 14 rooms in the house. That's a pretty big place for 1911 England! But this number was crossed out and in an entirely different handwriting was written the number 7. Still pretty big.
The instructions for counting the number of rooms states "write below the number of rooms in this dwelling (house, tenement or apartment) Count the kitchen as a room but do not count scullery, lobby, closet, bathroom; nor warehouse, office, shop" I was intrigued. I'm pretty sure there was no office, warehouse or shop there so what rooms did Jane count to get from 7 to 14? They had to be rooms referred to as scullery, lobby, closet or bathroom. She ran a boarding house so presumably there were extra bedrooms, each having its own closet. But is that what was meant by "closet" in 1911 England?
A scullery is a separate room off the kitchen which held tableware so I'm fairly certain great-grandma's house had one of those. She probably had a lobby (what we might call a foyer or entrance hall). But that's only more rooms beyond the final count of 7. I'm assuming she had a parlour (a front living room) and perhaps an informal living room. She had a kitchen and I suspect a dining room due to having boarders. So that makes 3 or 4 rooms. Bedrooms - she must have had at least 3 for family and at least one extra f(she had one boarder in 1911). So we come to the final tally of 7 rooms. If Jane added the scullery, lobby and one closet for each bedroom (4) we get a total of 13. To get that first number of 14 rooms we might add that informal living room.
Boring? Not to me. I can now form a pretty good mental image of my grandmother's home in 1911. I don't need to know the actual layout of rooms, although I would love to! I can still picture my grandmother rushing downstairs from her bedroom (no doubt shared with her older sister Lilian) to the kitchen to partake of breakfast before heading out to the shop where she worked.
And so I learned another valuable lesson and yes you CAN teach an old genealogist new tricks! Never never never assume you know all there is to know. Leave no stone unturned, gather details and enjoy your journey into the past.