Using Census Records to Calculate Birth Range

sandbank, near Dunoon.
Postcard. No date. Sandbank, Argyll.

I started on the trail of Mae Beattie’s birth record today. I want to prove my research question. Who were the parents of Mary (Mae) Cameron Beattie, who married Thomas Laidlaw on 3rd November 1922 in Glasgow?

The initial records kicking off this research are still on my desk. At a quick glance, they suggested collaborating direct evidence to my research question.

  1. 1922 Marriage Record Thomas Laidlaw and Mary Cameron Beattie1
  2. 1940 Marriage Record George Montgomery and Mary Cameron Beattie or Laidlaw2
  3. 1984 Death Record Mary Cameron Montgomery3

A developed hypothesis states Mae’s parents were John Beattie, gardener and Mary Cameron. Furthermore, 1900-1901 has been identified as the birth range. However, you can see my earlier post about why my straight forward research question is not yet proved here.

The go-to-source at this point would be the census records. The goal – to learn where Mae was born. Additionally, we might be able to narrow down that birth range. While the most recent US census available for public viewing is 1940, in Scotland it is 1911. The night of enumeration was Sunday the 2nd of April 1911.

Census records

1911 Census Netherfield, the Gardener’s Lodge ((Census. 1911. Scotland. Dunoon, Argyll. 510/01 118/00 004. : accessed 14 August 2017.))

NameRelationshipAgeOccupationPlace of Birth
John BeattieHead52GardenerInvernesshire, Kimonivaig
Mary BeattieWife54Invernesshire, Kilmonivaig
Jane BeattieDaughter25ServantDunbartonshire, Luss
Mary BeattieDaughter13ScholarDunbartonshire, Helensburgh
Jane AndersonRelative1Argyllshire, Sandbank

The census shows Mae with her parents John Beattie, gardener and Mary Cameron. Their residence is the same address as listed on Mae’s marriage record in 1922. Netherfield is the gardener’s cottage at the farm of Ellanswood. Great, another piece of primary direct evidence. Mae’s relationship to the head-of-the-household states she is John’s daughter.

Information for Scottish census’ was gathered a little differently than in the US. Enumerators were charged with delivering a Household Schedule with instructions to each residence prior to the night of the census. The instructions specified that it was the head-of-the-household who must complete the Schedule on the Sunday night of the date of the census. The enumerator would return the following morning and collect the completed form. They also reviewed for any discrepancies or incomplete responses or concerns the family may have shared. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume John provided the information for the census. It was the law. Presumably, he knew who his children were. Again, it’s reasonable to assume he knew when, and where they were born.

The 1911 census suggests that Mary Cameron Beattie was the daughter of John Beattie, gardener and Mary Beattie. She was born in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire about 1898. Well, that last bit is a hiccup in our evidence.  The initial documents gave us a birth range of 1900-1901 for Mae. Instead of being able to tighten this range we have opened it up to 1898-1901. Plus we left ourselves with a discrepancy to address.

The wonderful thing about census records at this time period is that there is another one ten years earlier in Scotland!

1901 Census records

19o1 Census Farm Cottage, Alexander Street ((Census. 1901. Scotland. Dunoon, Argyll. 510/01 006/00 010. : accessed 14 August 2017.))

NameRelationshipAgeOccupationPlace of Birth
John BeattieHead45Shepherd on FarmInvernesshire, Fort William
Mary BeattieWife46Invernesshire, Fort William
John BeattieSon19Shepherd on FarmDunbartonshire, Helensburgh
Jane BeattieDaughter16Assistant at HouseDunbartonshire, Luss
Mary BeattieDaughter3Dunbartonshire, Row

Here again, we find the Beattie family living in Dunoon. Presumably, they have just arrived within the last few years as Mae’s birthplace is again as Dunbartonshire. Indicated is the parish or village of Row instead of the previous town of Helensburgh. The parish of Row contained Helensburgh. Three-year-old Mae was identified as the head-of-the-household John Beattie’s daughter. So there is consistency between the two census’.

Developing a birth range

We can now tighten Mae’s possible date of birth. The date of this census was 31 March 1901. Ages were to be specified as of that date per the census instructions. Therefore, the youngest Mae could have been on this date would be three. This means the latest birth date would be 31 March 1898. Conversely, the oldest she could have been would be if she turned four the following day of the census. This indicates the earliest birth date of 1 April 1897.  Provided upon accurate information being entered on the Household Schedule, Mae’s birth range should fall of 1 April 1897 – 31 March 1898.

When you have more than one census record you can compare the two birth ranges. The overlapping time period being your narrowed window of range.  Let’s do this.

Date of CensusMary's Age on CensusOldest Possible Birth DateEarliest Possible Birth DateBirthdate RangeOverlapping Birthdate Range
31 March 19013 years1 April 188731 March 18981 April 1887 - 31 March 1898
2 April 191113 years3 April 18872 April 18983 April 1887 - 2 April 1898
3 April 1887 - 31 March 1898

While in this particular example we only managed to shave off two days from our range. that is not always the case. In contrast, US census records are dependent on the actual day an enumerator showed up to the door. Many times this results in ranges of up to six months in difference. Clearly, a helpful tool to narrow a birth range in that situation.

A woman’s vanity

Returning to Mae, it is not unusual for a lady to adjust her age to appear youthful. So engaging in this vanity, in an attempt to hide the four years gap, she tweaked her age. Hardly surprising the young widow with two children repeated this action when marrying a man over seven years her junior. Undoubtedly her daughter Jane used this information as a source to provide the details for her death record.

So off to locate a birth record for Mae in Dunbartonshire, likely the parish of Row, in the range of 3 April 1897 – 31 March 1898.

  1. Marriages (CR) Scotland. Blythswood, Glasgow, 3 November 1922. LAIDLAW, Thomas and BEATTIE, Mary Cameron. 644/10 1939. :  accessed 14 August 2017. []
  2. Marriages (CR) Scotland. Hutchesontown, Glasgow, 4 January 1940. MONTGOMERY, George and LAIDLAW or BEATTIE, Mary Cameron. 644/08 0126. : accessed 14 August 2017. []
  3. Deaths (CR) Scotland. Dunoon, 27 February 1984. MONTGOMERY, Mary Cameron. 532/00 0036. []

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