John Urquhart – The Opinionated Enumerator
Perusing the 1871 Census of Canada recently, I was jolted by a comment written in the far right column, on the line for the entry of Thomas Benson, a married man of 39 years, whose occupation was given as “Doctor.” It read,
Quack! Quack!! Quack!!!
Cures by laying on hands
Wowee, that’s not information typically recorded on a census. Governments charge census officials to collect specified, statistical data, not opinion. And that wasn’t the only one provided by John Urquhart on his house-to-house survey in April 1871.
Urquhart, like most enumerators, was a resident of the district he was assigned to cover, Springfield, Kings County, New Brunswick. (They were paid $3 for each day of service.) According to the 1871 Census of Canada “Manual Containing Instructions to Enumerators,” a successful census required “intelligent, honest and well-trained” individuals. They were directed:
- Not to omit anything of importance.
- Not to record the same thing twice.
- Not to exaggerate anything.
- Not to underrate anything.
“…the enumerator is never to take upon himself to insert anything which is not stated and distinctly acknowledged by the person giving the information.”
On the official form, the far right column had two uses, to record “the date of each day’s operation” and “to be entered any remark which may be found necessary ; but in general enumerators should not have to resort to explanations, unless in special cases.”
After the quackery remark, I combed the entire census in search more of Urquhart’s “special cases.” Sadly, no other comments reach that level, but the following clues us in to things that bugged John about his Springfield neighbors:
“Lives all alone”
— William Corey, a 35-year-old Baptist clergyman, who happened to be Irish.
“Religion not defined”
— Caroline Sims was a 60-year-old widow, born in the United States, who lived with her 30-yr-old son William and apparently refused to declare a church affiliation.
“Don’t live with Wife”
— Thomas Wilson was 33, also born Ireland, and residing in the Charles Gunter household.
“Lives alone in his Shop”
— Smyth Keirstead was a 25-year-old Merchant, born in New Brunswick, and a Baptist of German ethnicity.
Urquhart disapproved of young men who lived alone, and a possible female freethinker. However, we can’t write him off entirely as a judgmental grump. In the comments column for a widow, Mary Ross, who gave her age as 106, he wrote,
“Slightly advanced in years.”
Yeah, John Urquhart had a sense of humor – or he just couldn’t help himself.
Next time: There’s something about Thomas Benson
John Urquhart may have known more about “Doctor” Thomas S. Benson than we can know from mute documents. Benson was born in the United States and his young, New Brunswick bride, Judith Spragg, wasn’t his first wife, nor would she be his last, and do his medical credentials exist?
Sources | Resources
- Library and Archives of Canada – Genealogy and Family History
- Library and Archives of Canada – 1871 Census of Canada