During years of ploughing through censuses looking for families, we can offer you a selection of invaluable ideas for locating information which might seem impossible to find.
Here are our top tips for running searches.
Look for Typos
Even though there is the incredibly useful Soundex feature which helps to locate phonetically similar names (for example search for 'Lea' should give you results including 'Lee') there are transcription errors galore in the census records.
Therefore if you have no luck at all searching for a family called 'Faulkner' then you need to consider looking for 'Jaulkner' or 'Faleoner' because this is how handwriting might have been mis-interpreted by modern-day transcribers.
Vary your Search Criteria
If you still can't find 'Ophelia Faulkner' despite numerous variations on her surname, then if the person's name isn't too common then try searching for her first name in combination with another known fact. For example include a place of birth if known, or a parent's first name. You may end up trawling through fifty candidates, but if you can draw up a list of girls called 'Ophelia' born in Dudley then you are in with a chance. Also consider searching for the person's name in combination with the first name of one of their siblings. It should be quite easy to narrow down all the families in which an 'Ophelia' has a sister called 'Mary' for example.
Search for Siblings
If your ancestor is 'John Smith' born 1850 and you're finding it impossible to locate him in the 1851, then search for his brothers and sisters instead, if he has them. It might seem like stating the obvious but it can be easy to neglect the fact that your ancestor's parents are the same as his siblings' parents! And if his older brother is called 'Ezra Bartholemew Smith' then you have a much better chance of finding the correct parents.
This is also a useful tip when you have an ancestor born before 1837. There are no birth certificates available prior to 1837 so if you want to find 'John Smith's' parents, then you can order the birth certificate of one of his siblings born after 1837. Just be sure you have a confirmed sibling.
Remember the Snapshot Nature of the Census
The Census simply recorded who was staying in the house that night. You will often find that you cannot locate an ancestor with their family because they are visiting someone else. This can often prove very frustrating and deprive you of valuable data, but on the other hand it will often give you vital clues about their extended family. If you are looking for a child's parents and you can only find them living with a family of a different surname, then check to see what their relationship is to the family they are visiting. The discovery that they are 'niece' or 'daughter-in-law' to a person you'd never previously heard of can open up all sorts of avenues for locating new family relationships. Not only that but it gives you context to the lives of these forgotten people and allows you to bring them to life by understand who they were friends with, and who they stayed with.