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How do you deal with black holes in the historical data?

First off: I'm not at this point looking for specific help with my missing data. Rather I'm looking for help in understanding what the missing data may mean and suggestions for possible ways to fill in the holes.

Here's the situation: In the 1901 England census I find a clear entry for my great-grandfather, great-grandmother, (both age 48 ) and their 6 children (age 10 to 21) including my grandmother, all with places of birth consistent with the family history . Nowhere can I find any earlier record for any of these 8 people. No entries in any earlier census, no birth records for any of the 8, no marriage record for the parents --- nothing. I have tried every combination of spelling and date variations imaginable to no avail. I have looked at UK ship arrivals, though given that all children from age 13 and up were working in the cotton mills in 1901, I doubt the family would have been international travellers.

So my question to those of you with more experience than I have is: what do you think this means? Do whole families miss the census for decades while failing to register births? Was my great-grandfather fleeing from justice (or the lack thereof) and the family living under new names? What other possibilities exist? Have you ever encountered such a black hole and found a way to discover the missing data?

Any thoughts greatly appreciated!

- Valerie
hi Valerie


to the forum

1891 census
ARDERN, John 36 1855 Railway Carter Hazel Grove, Cheshire
ARDERN, Hannah 35 1856 Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire
ARDERN, Annie 11 1880 Waterloo, Lancashire
ARDERN, Sarah Jane 9 1882 Waterloo, Lancashire
ARDERN, Margaret Ann 8 1883 Waterloo, Lancashire
ARDERN, Lily 6 1885 Waterloo, Lancashire
ARDERN, Mary 3 1888 Waterloo, Lancashire
ARDERN, James 0 (11M) 1891 Waterloo, Lancashire

Piece:3274 Folio:78 Page: 49

Registration District: Ashton under Lyne

Address: 22, George Street, Ashton Under Lyne, Waterloo Lancashire
this looks like a 1st marriage for John, born Hazelgrove..

ARDERN, John R 26 1855 Carter Hazel Grove, Cheshire
ARDERN, Alice 25 1856 Charlesworth, Derbyshire
ARDERN, Martha A 3 1878 Bradford, Lancashire
ARDERN, Sarah A Daughter 2 1879 Bradford, Lancashire
SYKES, George Brother In Law married 24 1857 Slater And Plasterer Charlesworth, Derbyshire
SYKES, Albert E Nephew 4 1877 Bradford, Lancashire
SYKES, John Nephew 2 1879 Bradford, Lancashire

Piece:4015 Folio:61 Page: 43

Registration District: Prestwich
Civil Parish: Bradford

Address: 8, Beech St, Bradford Lancashire

Thanks so much for your quick and helpful info, even though I was not yet asking for my family data! Your first reply with the 1891 census data is a direct hit with the family I am looking for. My question is where did you find it? I am currently using the Ancestry and FreeBMD websites, and, unless I am even more of an idiot than I thought, I'm pretty sure that info is not available there. Also, the piece, folio, page reference you use is new to me. To what does it refer?

Your other 2 responses, unfortunately are not hits, as they are references to John R(obert) Arden. The 1901 census has entries for John, married to Hannah, and their children and for John R, married to Alice, and their children. The kicker is that they are about the same age and both born in Hazel Grove, Cheshire!

Again, a thousand thanks for your assistance.

- Valerie
Ah well, I tried

If you put Ardern in the surname, select 1901 census, then at the bottom of the pane there are three boxes Piece, Folio and Page number, these are the three numbers given. If you then search all the family members come up.
Sometimes there is an additional ref for Book number. this is entered in the Folio box thus --/--


Once again, thanks for your ongoing information. As I wrote earlier, your original reply with the 1891 census listing for John, Hannah, Annie, Sarah, Margaret, et al is exactly what I am looking for. However, using the Ancestry.co.uk web site I am not able to duplicate this finding. And since the intent of my original post was to learn how to find more info, I need to know what you did that I missed in order to find this record from 1891. Could you possibly tell me where you found the info if somewhere other than the Ancestry search tool, or, if you found it via Ancestry, what search criteria you used to bring it up? I've only be doing this for a week, so there is still so much I have to learn!

Thanks again and best regards,

- Valerie
sorry for the delay.

I originally used Find My Past, but then Ancestry.
I used the method I explained, In the census search pane, put in the surname Ardern, then select the census year, then at the bottom insert the Piece no 3799,Folio number 19 and Page no 30 then search. This should bring them up.

the black hole gets smaller


ANDERN, John 27 1854 Railway Lurry Man Hazel Grove, Cheshire
ANDERN, Hannah 27 1854 Ashton, Lancashire
ANDERN, Anne Daughter 1 1880 Ashton, Lancashire

Piece:4034 Folio:181 Page: 52

Registration District: Ashton under Lyne

Address: Blucher Bdgs, Oldham Rd, Ashton Under Lyne Lancashire

When using the Piece nos etc, because the surname is wrong, try putting in just the first name, ie Hannah without the surname and then the census year

Last edited:
Usually the reason you cannot find someone is that the record has been transcribed wrongly. When I search I put in the least amount of info and if possible what I know is correct. You can always add a bit more if you don't get a result I found the 1881 record by just putting in Anne (sounds like) then a father and mother name of John and Hannah born Ashton, Lancashire

Another reason is the age is wrong, search without a birthyear
There are missing forms. Sometimes another web site will have it. Try google the county parish clerk, quite a few counties have records on line.
Family Search is a good free site - https://familysearch.org/ - as well as searching on this pane, scroll up and select uk
There are also some counties which all use the same format. Look at Yorkshire BMD. On the first window there is a link to other counties

hope this is useful


Your other 2 responses, unfortunately are not hits, as they are references to John R(obert) Arden. The 1901 census has entries for John, married to Hannah, and their children and for John R, married to Alice, and their children. The kicker is that they are about the same age and both born in Hazel Grove, Cheshire!

- Valerie

I don't know if it is correct. but both John's have the 2nd name of Robert according to FreeBMD
according to Family Search the two John Robert's born Hazelgrove are thus

Born 1853 christened 10jun1954 living Waterloo in 1891, had parents William Ardern and Martha Bowden
born 1855 and living in North Manchester in 1901 had parents William and Mary

Hi, Dave,

Again, thanks for all your input! I haven't had time yet to sift through your later replies, but I will definitely try the other web sites you suggest and try to collate all the data you provided. It is rather maddening (though completely understandable) for the same family's surname to be transcribed Andern, Andrew and Ardern (the last being correct) in three success census.

Is there any way or place to submit corrections for these transcription errors? It would be nice if future researchers could be spared my pain!

And finally, I am assuming that in the cases where you noted piece, folio and page references, you discovered these after finding the census listing - you didn't somehow know what they should be and use them to find the listing. Right?

Best regards,

- Valerie
Speaking off the cuff, there is a box on ancestry search panel to click to make a comment. It will not change the record, but it adds the correction and puts an image of a pencil to indicate there is a correction

You are correct, the ref numbers are on each image and translation. If you have an image and know the ref numbers, have a look round the edges of the image. You should be able to identify where the ref numbers are situated

It seems to me that many genealogists assume that most of the records they require are to be found online.
Such a view is unfortunately wrong and will not be true for many years to come, if ever.
Yes many thousands of records have been made available online over the last ten years but many millions of records have not.

Think for a moment about just the holdings of the Genealogical Society of Utah they have over the last 73 years filmed over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm.

Of those 2.4 million films possibly less than 6000 are available online.

That is about quarter of one percent or 0.25 percent of the filmed records are online.
Yes such a large number of records online is impressive but it is a tiny proportion of available material.
Many archives have not yet completed an online index of resources let alone digitised records.

Many online sources provide either copies/transcripts of Parish Registers or Bishop’s Transcripts, few provide both sources which complement each other.

In addition the amount of genealogical data the has been microfilmed is a similarly tiny proportion of material that is available in archives.

Online is useful but a “full” family history still relies on good old paper records hidden away in archives up and down the country.
Thanks, Guy,

Your comments are certainly cogent, and there is no doubt that a thorough family history would require a great deal of off-line legwork!

Nevertheless, my question was an enquiry of how a newbie at this should deal with the apparent fact that an entire family had simply disappeared from the existing censuses prior to a certain year. The answer, in my case, was that the surname, Ardern, is notoriously prone to changes in spelling both on the original documents and on the transcriptions of those docs. Ardern, Andrew, Andern, Ardon... Makes it tough.

But I'm plugging away, learning a lot, and, if the bug really bites me, will probably some day be hitting the road in search of more documents.

- Valerie
hi,,,given that these births on the Cheshire BMD index give the mothers maiden name as Oulton...there is a marriage in 1873 Ashton U Lyne at St Michaels

John Ardon and Hannah Oulton

Cheshire Birth indexes for the years: 1881


Sarah Jane

Knott Lanes


Cheshire Birth indexes for the years: 1883


Margaret Ann

Knott Lanes


Cheshire Birth indexes for the years: 1885



Knott Lanes


Cheshire Birth indexes for the years: 1887



Knott Lanes


Cheshire Birth indexes for the years: 1890



Knott Lanes

birth reference
Name Hannah Oulton
Registration district Ashton under Lyne
County Lancashire
Year 1854
Quarter Oct-Nov-Dec
Volume 8D
Page 325