In the first ever census restoration project of its kind, Ancestry.com.au recently launched water-damaged parts of the England and Wales 1851 Census, previously thought to be irretrievable.
More than 17,000 pages from the 1851 Census were damaged when the building housing the Manchester 1851 Census manuscripts was flooded in the late 19th century. These pages, which contain the names and details of an estimated 275,000 people, have since been kept in a protected environment at The National Archives in Kew and were only brought out of storage to allow experts from Ancestry to restore them.
The damaged pages were rendered completely illegible to the naked eye by mould and water damage and until now this has prevented an estimated 150,000 Britons from exploring their heritage*.
Spearheading the restoration project, which used photographic technology and equipment most commonly used in crime scene investigations, was Ancestry’s Jack Reese, a leading expert in his field with experience working at NASA, IBM and Microsoft.
Jack and his team used short wave UV light to reveal the faded writing on the pages. As UV light is hazardous to human skin and vision, to overcome this risk, a bespoke ‘black box camera’ system was built that was able to sufficiently expose the pages to have their contents revealed and photographed while minimizing the operator’s exposure to the harmful rays.
The restored pages offer an in-depth insight into life at the time the census was taken. Anyone able to locate a Manchester ancestor in the England and Wales 1851 Census will now be able to see the original page featuring information on that person’s life, including their occupation, address and year and place of birth, for the very first time.
Included in the complete England and Wales 1851 Census are numerous famous Victorians such as Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin.
The newly-restored Manchester 1851 Census pages have revealed the following famous names:
- Samuel Bamford – an English radical and writer from Middleton, Samuel was a voice for parliamentary reform and the repeal of the Corn Laws, but opposed to any activism that involved physical force. His poetry sympathised with the conditions of the working class and when he died he was given a public funeral attended by thousands
- Edward Riley Langworthy – a Liberal politician and businessman, Edward moved to Salford in 1840 to establish a cotton business and went on to become Mayor of Salford, during which time he oversaw the establishment of the free public museum and library in the borough
*Based on natural population growth from 1851 to 2010 a population of 50,000 would have over 150,000 modern descendants today (154,445).