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The Bronte Sisters in the Yorkshire 1841 Census

The three Bronte sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - grew up with their brother Branwell in Parsonage House in Haworth, Yorkshire. Their childhood was blighted by the deaths of their mother from cancer, and their elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, from tuberculosis.

Their father Reverend Patrick Bronte was understandably a somewhat melancholy character, and the children depended on writing stories to entertain themselves. Creating sophisticated sagas about imaginary countries and kingdoms, they developed literary skills which they took with them into adulthood.

Parsonage House - The home of the Brontes
Parsonage House famously stands within an area of expansive moorland, which they were allowed to roam on as children, and which would have given their imaginations free rein. The harsh landscape formed the inspiration for the windswept, treacherous moors immortalised in Emily's most famous work, Wuthering Heights.

All three worked occasionally as governesses, and in 1841 we can see that Charlotte is working away in this capacity whilst Emily and Anne remain at home. They all disliked the job, and Charlotte and Anne both wrote novels (Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey) which describe its perils, and the general pressures on women of their social standing during this period. They could marry, find work as a governess or servant, or remain with their families- but couldn't easily achieve a meaningful independence.

Their writing allowed them to explore and document this situation. Ironically, due to the restrictions of the time, their poetry and novels were published under the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell - three brothers rather than sisters.

Their works are very different, but share common strengths of innovation and vision, particularly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, which both received a decidedly lukewarm reception on their initial publication, but are now hailed as classics.

All three are to be found on the 1841 census, but Emily died of tuberculosis in 1848 and Anne of an unknown illness a year later, and only Charlotte appears, back in Haworth, in 1851. She died in 1855, having revealed her true identity as the author of Jane Eyre only a few years previously.

With that information in hand, I set out to look for their census records in the Yorkshire 1841 & 1851 Census CD sets purchased from British Data Archive.

I looked up Charlotte Bronte on by doing a search under the 1841 Yorkshire census transcripts, and immediately found her. I decided to view an image of the census record and found her to be living at Upper Road House. The search results informed me that I could also find this record on the CD set (CD 28, HO107 / 1313 / 7, folio 13).

After my success with Charlotte, I decided to tackle the other two sisters, Emily and Anne. I searched for Emily first, again on, loaded up the census image, and found her living at Parsonage House with her sister Anne and their father Patrick. The search results showed me that I could also find this record on the CD set (CD21, HO107/1295/6/, Folio 41).

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