Having spent a few months tinkering around with research into my great-grandfather Sidney Levi Wildman – the piccolo player–  and his wife, I thought it was time to step a generation further back to look into my great-great grandfather Henry Wildman.

As opposed to Sidney, there is far less information available: a few patchy census returns and a few blank names yet to be coloured in. Henry appears to have been born in 1841 in Bedfordshire (like many of his ancestors, it would seem), but the first census document I’ve obtained dates as late as 1871. After this, there is another in 1881, and then nothing more. Furthermore, looking at both census returns from 1871 and 1881 immediately brings up a few inconsistencies.

The 1871 document lists that Henry was 27 years old, the head of a young family alongside his wife Harriet (also 27 years old). Their children are:

George Wildman – 8

Harrill [Harriet?] Wildman – 7

Henry Wildman – 3

Kale [Kate?] Wildman – 1

So far, so good. However, a simple comparison with the 1881 census throws up a few question marks. Henry is now 40 years old, rather than the expected 37 years old, whilst Harriet is 38 years old (they were both the same age a decade earlier!). Furthermore, the kids that were once there have changed rather dramatically:

Harriet Wildman – 18

Rose Wildman – 11

Sidney Levi Wildman – 9

Neil Wildman – 7

Agnes Wildman – 5

Henrietta Wildman – 2

So, what the heck happened to the other kids? At first I thought it must be due to them growing up and moving on. For example, the oldest George would be 18 in 1881, and could have been expected to have moved out on his own. However, what of Henry? Perhaps at 13 he, too, during this day and age, may have been living and working elsewhere.

But any further research into what came of these children throws up lots of new uncertain avenues. For example, there is a death certificate for a Henry Wildman who died in the 1880s, but I cannot link it back to Henry and Harriet. Whilst there is a George Wildman who is active in Bedfordshire during this period, utilising the rather extravagant name of George Orlando Wildman! Again, I cannot link him to Henry and Harriet, and to make matters even more confusing, Henry also had a brother called George who was born roughly at the same time.

Further inspection of the the 1871 and 1881 census returns (censuses or censi, for plural?!) throws up other inconsistencies beside the difference in ages and the phantom children. In 1871, Henry is listed as a ‘labourer’, whereas in 1881 he is a ‘blacksmith’. Yes, it may be true that he learnt a new trade during this time period; after all, it was a whole decade. However, the vast majority of people would have learnt their trade as an apprentice in their teens, rather than re-train during their 30s. The other nagging question mark is the stated birth-location: the 1871 Henry lists Widford, Essex, whereas the 1881 Henry lists Bedfordshire.

The big problem with trusting the census data is this simple knowledge: people lie and are inconsistent with their paperwork. But, such are the differences that I cannot rely on the 1871 Henry being the same man as the 1881 Henry. So, I have decided on a scorched-earth policy: I’ve removed all the documents and data from Henry’s profile and have left only one: the 1881 census return. This is the only solid link to Sidney Levi Wildman, and therefore it is the only sure one on which to build from again. Hopefully, I will be able to find out who the real Henry Wildman was, and when I do I will be sure to provide an update on this blog.