Census & BMD: Rooms, With One or More Windows

TitleOnlyThere is much to write about, on window count, in genealogy; why do we know about them, and what did they mean for our ancestor.

The 1861 Scotland census introduced the need for household heads, to report “number of rooms, with one or more windows”. 1 The answer was captured after their personal information, in the far right column of the census form. This placement suggested it was proxy for their prosperity. In fact, concurrent US censuses asked  household heads, for the value of their real and personal estate. 2 Many genealogy stories, including “Double Genealogy: the Adoption Witness” used windows, to imagine their ancestors’ economic plight.

The question was stand alone, in terms of inside home environment. One might expect the follow-up, “total number of rooms”, if the intent were to evaluate needs of an individual household. It would be interesting to know if any drill down, to family level, occurred after the census was taken. That is, did outreach services, or research bodies, examine individual family returns, to effect change?  If known, please comment.

The intent probably went more toward global application, around administrating the public interest. The first clue is that three sets of numbers were rolled up in each Census Enumeration Booklet. They can be seen tabulated together, in the header area, as one receives a census from ScotlandsPeople.  Buildings were counted as inhabited, or not; inhabitants, as male or female.  Windowed room count was then aggregated with these building and inhabitant data.

Also to this point, the column placement changed in 1911.1That census captured windows, where other building data were historically situated – on the left side of the census form. The result appears to be a tool, whose value might be seen, in action or funding, at the parish or district level, say, for school boards. 

More broadly, the intention seems to have been to gain statistical insight on dwellings across Scotland. The “Integrated Census Microdata (I-CEM) Guide” (see link below: item 3,  Notes and Sources) states that “The collection and tabulation of information regarding the number of rooms with windows was primarily for ‘sanitary’ reasons. It showed that ‘town’ accommodation was little worse in terms of persons per room(s) with windows than ‘rural’ housing.” 3  

One could wonder further, on these data. Theirs was largely a coal burning environment, where damp does not easily dry and tuberculosis, along with other contagions, was rampant.  More research might reveal if the windows were fixed, or could open. Should there be more than one, were they strategically placed for cross ventilation?

Light affects mood and physical health. Room count was not stipulated, but the question implies that windowless rooms were normal, as were homes with only one window. The guess here, is that the first window would go to a common area. Perhaps kitchen and living area were open concept.  Refinement on that guess, is also welcome. For certain, one window, sized to the era, would not over illuminate, even on the sunniest of day. One could hope for glow from stove or fireplace.

As suggested, the concept of windowed rooms was used in the book, as related to adoptive great grand grandparents, John Dickson (1816 -1878) and Margaret Dickson (Paterson) (1818-1881). Both were born, married and died in the Parish of Lesmahagow, in Lanarkshire. 4

They were cotton weavers, living in the hamlet of Kirkfieldbank, in 1861.1Their family of six, of two generations, enjoyed two rooms with window(s). Their census page covered four families in all; one of a similar situation. A cattle dealer with a family of four, had six such rooms, while a grocer’s family of six, had four. Cotton weaving it seemed, was a humble undertaking.

The cotton weaving industry in Lanarkshire, was negatively impacted by diminished raw material supply; a factor of the US Civil War, mid-1860s.  John was already 45 in 1861, after which he found work as a quarrier.  His 1871 census, in the nearby village of Crossford Lesmahagow, now covered three generations.1It revealed a downgrade of affordable circumstance. Only one room had window(s), with house count, still six. One could wonder on civility over privacy and sharing of the scarce natural light. Window count told the story of the collapse of an industry, and its impact on workers and their families.

The transition was not kind to John; he died before the next census, an old man, at 62. His widow was still in that Crossford home in 1881.1 Margaret Dickson (Paterson) became paralyzed after John died. Their teen aged granddaughter, Mary McKinlay b.1863, who had come under grandparent care, at four, remained. She was joined by her infant, Margaret Whitefield.  Plus, my adoptive great grandfather, James Dickson, and his new wife, Maggie Gemmell. Four generations, an invalid and an infant – one room with natural light. It boggles the mind, and hurts the heart.

There is more about rooms with window(s) that could be worth the write in genealogies. Imagine their dark night, their home allowing scant moonlight, under which, to quietly roll the invalid, change the babe, the midden outdoors, with another long work day, looming.

Each case would be unique, but in mine, the matriarch would typically be at home.  Did she capture the few minutes when the brightest light streamed through, to stitch or knit? Steal them to “sponge bathe” wee ones. Prepare the stew?  Constantly change work station to follow the arc, should she be so lucky as to have more than one window? Her mean inside dim, would grow meaner, as her vision dimmed with age, unlikely to be corrected with glasses. Yes, there is lots to write about windows, in genealogy.

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Notes and Sources

  1. Census data were found at ScotlandsPeople and are © Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland
  2. Data found at Findmypast Ltd, Website: findmypast.com ©brightsolid online publishing ltd. ©2017 Findmypast. With thanks to Findmypast www.findmypast.uk.com
    • Census Records 1850-1910 USA. Underlying data custodian is United States National Archives and Records Administration, (NARA), College Park MD. https://www.archives.gov
  3. “Integrated Census Microdata (I-CEM) Guide” , Edward Higgs, Christine Jones, Kevin Schurer and Amanda Wilkinson, University of Essex, Department of History, September 2013. PG 42. https://www1.essex.ac.uk/history/research/icem/html
  4. Birth and Death data were found at ScotlandsPeople and are © Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland

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