Animals and Ancestors

Sometimes we often forget the fact that our ancestors might have owned pets. I remember as a child being a bit surprised to find out that my Mum had a dog called Rex when she was young. She is not into dogs, probably after having been bitten quite badly on the leg by one when she was younger. Then my Dad told me that his grandmother used to have a dog called Candy.


Annie and Candy

My Mum and Rex

My Mum and A Dog – I don’t think this is Rex – could be Rover!

Most of the time, unless we are told from a relative about their memories of a family pet owned by their grandparents, or from seeing them included in family photos, we often wouldn’t know at all if they had any pets.


A rather faded photograph of my great grandmother Mary Marshall nee Swann and her pet dog – name unknown!

The Austins restore

A great photograph from circa 1905 possibly denoting the engagement of the young lady seated and the chap stood behind her or her brother and his fiancée at the back. (From my ex’s family tree!)

Of course, going back in time most pets were usually working animals, like cats that were mousers or helped mole catchers, or sheepdogs, truffle hunting dogs and the like. More people had small holdings in order to help provide for their families with chickens, pigs, the odd cow. I know from stories from my Dad’s second cousins that my great grand aunt Liza had two cows and some chickens to help them with food, but that when times were tough they had to sell the cows – much to the children’s upset.

John Brown without info small

My 2x great grandfather John Brown and his horse he used for work – pulling wagons for the Glyn Valley Tramway.

There have been some instances on the England and Wales 1911 census where the householder has included their pet in the list of people in their house on that night. In 2013 FindmyPast published some articles about animals that had been found – there was Roger the Airdale Terrier and Bobs the Cat who was described as follows:

  • Name: Bobs (black cat)
  • Age: One year old
  • Occupation: Nomad
  • Industry: Mice Hunting
  • Whether working at home: Mostly
  • Birthplace: In a stable in Ipswich

It seems the head of the household crossed it all out afterwards but it is nice to see some humour and some inclusion of the pets.

Some years ago I was clearing out some old family history magazines and the CDs that came with them to sell on eBay. Most of the time I am disappointed as they rarely cover the areas my families were from, but I had a look at one of them as it had some samples of the pre-1841 censuses for Hendon in Middlesex. Some of my partner’s family came from there so I thought I would check it out. He had a family by the name of Howard – namely a Robert Howard who had moved to Hendon from Norfolk and set up his trade as a Coal Dealer. I found him on the 1821 census sample for Hendon, living in a place called Burrows. It states one family lived in the property which consisted of 3 males and one female. The males were one aged 20 to 30 – so that would be Robert and two under 5 – his sons William and Robert jnr, the one female was aged 20 – 30 so his wife Elizabeth Ann. Under the remarks section where the enumerators noted how many windows the property had and the amount of rent paid – it stated 5 – (so 5 windows) and 12 (so assuming rent amount of 12s). I was also surprised to see that it stated that they had 1 dog! By 1841 Robert had become a Butcher and by 1851 a Marine Store Dealer. He died in 1854 in Marylebone, London aged 60.

And why am I thinking about this today? Because I’m off to collect a new addition to our family this afternoon – a rescue cat! Excited!


8 thoughts on “Animals and Ancestors

  1. I like the idea of humorous entries on a census entry-would be great to get a sense of an ancestor’s personality that way 🙂
    Love the photographs, particularly the older ones-Mary Marshall and John Brown. As Mary’s photograph fades, so too do memories and stories of her. You are helping to keep these alive. Well done you.
    Ps Nice colour one of your Mum too.

    • Thanks Andy!

      Yeah I like that photo of my Mum too. My brother had 5 dogs, now down to 4 I think and my sister has one little Westie terrier. I’m not really much of a dog person, probably picked up on my Mum’s fear of them as a child so was never overly comfortable with dogs.

      I don’t know if she was bitten before or after this photograph was taken, but it’s nice to see that for a while at least, she wasn’t scared of them!

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