Researching local and family history

*note: this was originally posted in May. Our Digital Dinah Craik team has since discovered countless other interesting facts and sources in our research. We’ll have to do another post!


The previous post about transcribing and encoding Dinah Craik’s letters to her daughter Dorothy ended by mentioning the usefulness of the details discovered by digging into local history and genealogical sources. Below are a few of the interesting facts found during my research and, when applicable, how they were useful to our project as a whole.

—The Ancestry website, which bills itself as “the world’s largest online family history resource—including historical records, photos, stories, family trees and a collaborative community of millions,” includes many essential historical public records that are particularly useful when researching a topic from the 19th and early 20th centuries. England and Scotland kept especially good Census and Birth, Death, and Marriage records.

—Searching Ancestry is both a science and an art, as many of the transcriptions contain (human) errors and the records themselves were often challenging to read and included different information from one census to the next.

—Searching for Dinah Craik’s census records provided some entertaining and useful details:

  • In the 1861 Census, Dinah (aged 34) is listed as the Head of the house on North End in Hampshire. Along with her two servants, three visitors are listed as staying at her home: Margaret Craik and two of her children: Jane and 24-year-old accountant George Lillie Craik. This was during the several months that Dinah invited George (her future husband), a distant relative whom I believe she had never met, to recuperate at her home after a horrific rail accident that led to the amputation of one of his legs.
  • By the 1871 Census, George (now a Publisher), Dinah (Author) were living at The Corner House with their adopted daughter Dorothy as well as six servants. Mary Bonner (aged 22), a servant, also worked for Dinah in 1961 when she was 13-years-old.
  • In 1881 the three family members (with Dinah listed as Authoress) still at The Corner House with four servants and two visitors: Jane Dyason (aged 42) and Maude Dyason (aged 9)—a housekeeper and scholar respectively—are listed as visitors.

How is this information useful in researching Dinah Craik and, particularly, in transcribing her personal letters? The servant names were tremendously useful, as they helped fill in the gaps when we came across names in our letters. Karen had already realized that when Dinah referred to someone by their given name, they would have to be either close family members or friend or servants, as the convention was to refer to anyone else by Mr./Mrs./Miss and their surname. Dinah’s reputation of helping underprivileged women also may shed light on her choice of servants and why such a wealthy woman might have a housekeeper as a visitor to her home. (*we later discovered that housekeeper was in charge of Dinah’s home in Dover.)

Knowing that George was with Dinah during the Census in 1861 helps us figure out the timeline of George and Dinah’s initial meeting. Through some more online detective work I found both an article and a government report on the rail accident in which he was injured (it occurred January 15, 1861) while the Census of England was taken April 7, 1861.

The census can often provide information on where someone lived, who they lived with, their occupation, their age and marital status, and their neighbours. The census can also be useful in researching other people mentioned in Dinah’s letters and in establishing relationships between people and places. While I’m not certain how much say an individual had in the information written into the census, I would have to imagine that the details included were given directly by the head of the house or a family member. This leads to an interesting consideration of how Dinah Mulock Craik viewed herself as despite her many roles in her home and the professional sphere. In census records—she is clearly listed as an author.

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