I've mentioned my 2nd great grandfather Matthew Nettell previously in Did uncle of Grace Martin Wills (or perhaps of Matthew Nettell) own the Gosforth?

Although I have not yet ordered his birth certificate I believe this is his birth index entry:
Matthew Nettle, Apr-May-Jun 1846, Redruth, volume 9, page 277

He is in the 1851 Census:

Painters Lane End, Illogan, Cornwall (HO 107/1915, f 479, p 45)
Edward Nettell      Head    Mar 40  Turner (Wood)   Cornwall Illogan
Maria Nettell       Wife    Mar 39                  Cornwall Illogan
Mary J. Nettell     Daur    U   15                  Cornwall Illogan
Edward Nettell      Son     U   14  Scholar         Cornwall Camborn
Eliza Nettell       Daur        11  Scholar         Cornwall Camborn
John Nettell        Son         8   Scholar         Cornwall Camborn
William Hy Nettell  Son         6   Scholar         Cornwall Camborn
Mathew Nettell      Son         4   Scholar         Cornwall Illogan
Matilda R. Nettell  Daur        2                   Cornwall Illogan
Alfred Nettell      Son         6M                  Cornwall Illogan

The same family are easy to identify in the 1861 Census. However, Matthew who should be aged 14-15 is not with them:

Painters Lane End, Illogan, Cornwall (RG 9/1582, f 60, pp 5-6)
Edward Nettle         Head  Mar 50  Turner              Cornwall Illogan
Maria Nettle          Wife  Mar 49                      Cornwall Illogan
Eliza Nettle          Daur  Un  21  Draper's Assistant  Cornwall Camborne
John Nettle           Son   Un  18  Smith               Cornwall Camborne
William Henry Nettle  Son   Un  16  Turner              Cornwall Camborne
Matilda Renner Nettle Daur      12  Scholar             Cornwall Illogan
Helena Maria Nettle   Daur      8   Scholar             Cornwall Illogan

When Matthew married Grace Martin Wills on 23 Sep 1865 at Redruth his age was 19, his occupation was Blacksmith, his residence was Painters Lane End, Illogan, and his father was Edward Nettell a Cooper.

When Matthew emigrated to South Australia he continued his trade as a Blacksmith at Angaston.

My theory is that, at the time of the 1861, Matthew was living away from home while undertaking his apprenticeship as a Blacksmith but I have found no record of that apprenticeship nor of where he was living.

Does anyone have any ideas of how I can determine where he was living for the 1861 Census?

  • 1
    You're probably aware of this already, but there is a sound-alike family in the 1861 census, headed by Edward aged 50, at Glebe Farm House, Trengore, Illogan. His son Matthew is aged 18, a schoolmaster. In similar cases, I found my missing person working as an apprentice and enumerated in a neighboring parish. Unfortunately this time period is too early for the school admission books database on Find My Past; those registers often give clues about students leaving and returning to a parish.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 3:46
  • 1
    I was confused by the family of Edward Nettell and Anne Bennetts, with son Matthew Bennetts Nettell, at one time but have been able to disentangle them from my family headed by Edward Nettell and Maria Hocking.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 4:46

2 Answers 2


Strategy 1:

Use maps and gazetteers to help identify nearby places to Illogan, and look for blacksmiths in those places to find who might be a master to an apprentice. Nearby places tools can be found at:

Strategy 2:

Look for the types of records likely to mention boys of that age -- not just for Matthew specifically, but for anyone who was apprenticed.

Use what you find about where other apprentices were placed to widen and then refine your search. Bear in mind that if a mistake was made when the original household schedules were copied, Matthew may not appear in the Census with his own surname, and his birthplace may not appear as Illogan in search results. Transcribers make mistakes. I've found census transcriptions where the birthplaces were one line off (a brother appears listed with his brother's birthplace) because the original schedule had a correction on it, and whoever transcribed the entry lost their place.

I have a similar case where I found my missing person working as an apprentice and enumerated in a neighboring parish. Unfortunately this time period is too early for the school admission books database on Find My Past; those registers often give clues about students leaving and returning to a parish. For this period, any clues about when Matthew might have been in school (which might help you narrow the time frame for when he could have left the parish) would be likely to be in the Parish Chest / churchwarden's records.

Strategy 3:

Search the households of all known relatives, especially married female relatives who are likely to have a different surname. I have found relatives marked as "Visitor", so don't assume that the relationship to head of household will be correct.

Strategy 4:

When Matthew emigrated to South Australia, did anyone else from the area go with him? Check the households of any of his associates in South Australia, in case their association pre-dates their emigration. In my research, I found people from the same village traveling together. Examination of the school admissions registers showed that they were admitted to school around the same time.

  • Many thanks for your thoughts. W.r.t. the last strategy, 19yo Matthew arrived in South Australia with his 16yo bride Grace. Their ship's passengers are listed at Trove (trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/31856330?) but there are none I recognize and unless I find a ship's manifest that groups the passengers in some way I suspect I'll have to treat their shipmates as strangers.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 22:30
  • 1
    Checking the passenger lists for associates is more productive in the USA, in the periods where last residence and/or birthplace were listed in the incoming passenger lists. Looking for associates in the new country and then working back may also be more productive when the new place is industrialized -- workers were often recruited, and it's possible to find many people who came from the same place.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 2:48
  • 1
    I've been doing more looking at the generation of Nettells and Hockings before Matthew to try and identify all aunts and uncles but there were lots of Nettells at Illogan, many with similar names, and so will need a lot of work. Even if I don't find Matthew on 1861 census night, this should take me closer to understanding who his parents siblings and his grandparents were.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 22:44

@JanMurphy has provided some useful suggestions for trying to locate Matthew in this census. However, the unfortunate truth is that the 1861 census has been well-indexed on many sites now, so the pessimist in me says that as you and others have done an extensive search for him it is unlikely you will find him anywhere on this census. This answer looks at some of the common reasons why you may be unable to find him.

The key to remember with all these possible explanations is that the census is a snapshot in time. It is where everyone was one night in 1861. That may be different to where they were the day before and the day after.

Simple mistake or omission

This is, in my opinion, the most likely explanation for Matthew's absence on the census.

It is possible Matthew was staying with his parents the night of the census. This census was carried out in the same way all the other English censuses were carried out. An enumerator would deliver a form (schedule) to the householder a few days before census day. The householder would fill in this form at some point in that week, and then shortly after census day the enumerator would be back to collect the forms. The enumerator would then transfer all the information on the schedule over to the enumerator's book, which is what we have access to today.

It is very possible that in transferring the information over from the schedule to the enumerator book, he skipped a line. I have transcribed many records before, and it is very easy to mistakenly skip a line.

Another explanation is that Matthew's father omitted him from the schedule for some reason. As previously mentioned, the forms were delivered a few days before census day, so if they were filled out a day or two in advance, and Matthew changed plans as to where he was staying on census night, he might not end up on any form.

Similarly, if Matthew was just spending one night (census night) in another house, the householder there may have incorrectly assumed he was enumerated with his parents and thus not included him.

Missing piece or folio

Unfortunately, there are some pieces, or parts of pieces, that have been lost for every census - including the 1861. A list of 1861 census pieces known to be missing in part or entirety is given on FindMyPast.

I cannot see any Cornwall pieces that are specifically noted on this list, but it is possible Matthew could have been in another county on census night for which the record has gone missing.

Transcription error

This census has been transcribed on several sites, and it is unlikely they would all make the same transcription error. However, it is possible that the page is damaged or very difficult to read, which means he may not appear correctly on any index. Often creative searching of other fields (e.g. birthplace) can make it possible to identify an individual.

Recorded as "Unknown" or "Stranger"

It is not uncommon to come across entries, particularly in lodging houses, where an individual is recorded as "unknown", "stranger", or the like. This could occur when the individual who was staying the night there left early the next morning before their details could be noted for census purposes. If Matthew was one of these individuals, it would be next to impossible to identify him.

In an institution

Perhaps a less likely explanation for Matthew's absence - but one to consider - is that he was in an institution on the night of the census. He could have been in a hospital for a night, or in a prison. Often these institutions recorded their patients or inmates by initials only (e.g. M. N.), so even by an extensive search you could miss them. You might use newspapers or institutional records to corroborate this theory.

In the army or abroad

This is very unlikely in your case given that Matthew was only 14-15, but included for completeness. Those in the army or abroad would not be found on the census. The 1861 Worldwide Army Index on FindMyPast is a good substitute for finding soldiers abroad at the time of the census.

I think it is unlikely that the reason you cannot find Matthew was because he was undertaking his apprenticeship elsewhere. It is certainly possible, but having spent quite a considerable amount of time searching for him on several websites, I think there would also be another reason we cannot find him - either an omission or major transcription error.

I hope that you are able to find Matthew on this census - so am not suggesting you give up looking. However, I hope I have emphasized some of the more common reasons why someone simply might never be able to the be found on a UK census.

  • 1
    I wish I could upvote this answer more than once, especially for the link to pieces known to be missing from the 1861 census. This kind of information is often overlooked and can be difficult to find even when you are aware of that kind of problem.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 22:35
  • @JanMurphy I too went straight to that missing from 1861 census page when I read this and was relieved to see no wards where I am expecting direct ancestors of mine to be living at that time.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 22:39
  • 1
    With two great answers, that do all but find Matthew for me, awarding the bounty points and accepting an answer presented me with a dilemma, so I have given the bounty to this answer that the community gave one more upvote to but accepted the answer of @JanMurphy.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 21:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.