I've run across a curious designation in the "Relation to Head of Family" column of the 1851 Census that I'd like some help figuring out. Following the entries for the parents and their children who all share the same last name, there is an entry for a 24-year-old woman with a different last name and a "Relation to Head of Family" that looks like it could be "Depen" (possibly for Dependent?). The Census says this young woman is employed as a "Cotton Slubber" and she is certainly of age at 24, so I'm not quite sure what to make of this.enter image description here

Has anyone else seen a similar designation? Am I reading the entry correctly? Any thoughts about what it might mean?

Judith, thanks for your thoughts on this. Here's one other wrinkle that I overlooked. Hannah Yates is also enumerated with this family in the 1841 Census, but in that census (which doesn't include a column for relation to head of household), she's listed as "F.S.," presumably "Female Servant."

enter image description here Since the head of household is listed as a Laborer, it seems a bit odd to think that Hannah Yates was employed as a female servant within the household. Maybe this is just the way the census enumerator accounted for the presence of an unrelated, non-working teenage girl in household, or maybe she was working as a domestic outside the household?

In any case, the unofficial adoption line is definitely one worth following up. I'll try to locate a birth record for Hannah to see if that helps me figure anything out.

  • 1
    Welcome to G&FH.SE! Can you post the archive reference for this census entry so that those of us with access to the 1851 census can look for an image at our own provider's website? Not all sites have the same images and there might be a better copy.
    – Jan Murphy
    Feb 12, 2015 at 20:06

1 Answer 1


It is Dependent.

Formal adoption in law did not exist in Britain until 1926. The change in law being brought about after the large number of orphans created by the First World War and the Influenza epidemic shortly after.

Before this time, adoption was an informal process performed in various ways. My understanding is that the Church was usually involved.

I would read from your census that this woman has been adopted, thus becoming a dependent. She is still living with her adopted parents at 24 as she is unmarried. Perhaps this is due to some disability but that is pure speculation.

The continued use of Dependent rather than Lodger would indicate that she doesn't pay rent, not that she doesn't pay her way.

There are various books on the history of adoption. You may find more information there.

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.