McGonagall in the Census

Starting in 1841, the British government undertook to conduct a census of all its subjects every ten years. William Mcgonagall therefore appears in seven censuses and they provide a fascinating series of snapshots of his changing circumstances and fortunes.

The following census records are derived from the on-line records available at the Scotland’s People website.


William’s first appearance in the record – his first appearance in any official document – is also his most controversial. In his autobiographies, and in later censuses, he would claim to have been born in Edinburgh. However, here his birthplace is given as Ireland. What’s going on? It’s possible that he would want to cover the stigma of being an Irish immigrant by falsifying his birthplace. It’s also quite possible that a busy enumerator faced with a clutch of McGonagalls all born in different places simply classified them all as Irish. Maybe it was filled in by a neighbour who knew that baby Margret had been born locally but didn’t know about the others. We’ll probably never know for sure.

The census does at least confirm that William followed his father into the trade of the hand loom weaver.

Street Name Age Trade Where Born
Hawkshill Charles McGonigal 50 HLW Ireland
Margret -”- 40 Ireland
William -”- 15 HLW Ireland
Jannet -”- 13 Flax Spinner Ireland
James -”- 12 Ireland
Eliza -”- 9 Ireland
Sally -”- 6 Ireland
Joseph -”- 4 Ireland
Margret -”- 9 mo. Dundee


Ten years have passed and much has changed in the life of young William. In 1846 he had married Jean King, and here he is the head of his own household and with the beginnings of his own family. Admittedly he’s having to share with (presumably) his mother- and brother-in-law but it’s a start.

The enumerator seems to have assumed that the two young children in the house were Kings. Later censuses make it clear that they were the first of William & Jean’s own family. One wonders also how much confusion was caused by all the menfolk in the house being called William…

Address Name Relation to Head Condition Age Occupation Where Born
44 West Port William McGunnagall Head Mar 26 Weaver Edinburgh
Jean -”- Wife Mar 25 Stirling
Jean King Lodger U 51 Ireland
William -”- Lodger U 33 Mill Worker Stirling
William -”- Lodger U 4
Margaret -”- Lodger U 17 mo.


Another decade has passed and the McGonagall family is growing apace. Young William and Margaret have acquired three younger siblings and are beginning to contribute to the family income. Further help comes from a lodger who is, we assume, either Jean’s sister or her niece.

We might also note that William has begun to be cagey about his year of birth. In the ten years since the last census, the future poet has only aged by six years, and also become a year younger than his wife instead of a year older.

Address Name Relation to Head Condition Age Occupation Where Born
24 Mid Wynd William McGonagall Head Mar 32 Carpet Weaver Edinburgh
Jean -”- Wife Mar 33 Stirling
William -”- Son Un 15 Millworker Dundee
Margaret -”- Daughter 13 Millworker Dundee
Joseph -”- Son 7 Dundee
Charles -”- Son 4 Dundee
Mary King -”- Daughter 1 Dundee
Margaret King Lodger Un 18 Millworker Dundee


Ten years on and the last of William & Jean’s children has been born. Four of the older children are working, but Margaret has flown the nest and is making a living on her own somewhere.

Address Name Relation to Head Condition Age Occupation Where Born
41 Step Row William McGonagall Head Mar 44 Carpet Weaver Edinburgh
Jean -”- Wife Mar 43 Stirling
William -”- Jr Son Unm 20 Millworker Dundee
Joseph -”- Son Unm 16 Millworker Dundee
Charles -”- Son 12 Ropemaker (Appr) Dundee
Mary -”- Daughter 10 Millworker Dundee
James -”- Son 8 Dundee
John -”- Son 5 Dundee
Thomas -”- Son 1 Dundee


It’s been a most eventful ten years since the previous census. Most notably, of course, William has received the gift of poetry, though the enumerator clearly isn’t sure that “Poet” is a proper occupation for a working man.

Elsewhere, in 1873, Margaret has “got into trouble” and given birth to an illegitimate son. She’s not returned to the family fold, but the poet’s first grandchild is welcome – provided he can find space in a dwelling with no fewer than eight (by the standards of the time) adult occupants. Little Andrew is also the first member of the family to benefit from the new 1875 Education Act – he’s going to school!

Joseph has made a break from the family’s preference for the textile industry and got a job in the dockyard. Meanwhile Charles has found an unusual profession making the wood and iron combs, or “hackles” used in the linen industry.

Address Name Condition Age Relation to Head Where Born Occupation
19 Patons Lane William McGonnigal Mar 55 Head Edinburgh “Poet”
Jean -”- Mar 57 Wife Stirling Housewife
William -”- Unmarried 27 Son Dundee Mill Worker
Joseph -”- Unmarried 22 Son Dundee Ship Painter
Charles -”- Unmarried 20 Son Dundee Hackle Maker
Mary -”- Unmarried 19 Daughter Dundee Mill Worker
James -”- Unmarried 17 Son Dundee Mill Worker
John -”- N/A 14 Son Dundee Roper (Unemployed)
Andrew -”- N/A 7 Grandson Dundee Scholar


As William’s period in Dundee nears its end, the enumerator is no happier with his stated profession and tacks on a proper job just to make sure. He’s not noticed that Andrew is not really a son of the householders, given his scandalous origins his grandparents are probably happy to leave it that way.

Address Name Relation to Head Condition Age Occupation Where Born
41 Patons Lane William McGonegal Head Mar 62 “Poet” & late Carpet Weaver Edinburgh
Jane -”- Wife Mar 62 Stirling
James -”- Son Unm 27 Jute Ropespinner Dundee
John -”- Son Unm 25 -”- Dundee
Andrew -”- Son Unm 15 -”- Dundee


McGonagall’s final entry comes from Edinburgh. The bureaucracy of the Scottish capital has no problem accommodating a man working as a poet, but does that make him a worker? A dutiful younger daughter has followed to help look after her parents in their last days.

Address Name Relation to Head Condition Age Occupation Employer, Worker or on Own Account Where Born
1 Cotts Union Bldgs William McGonagall Head Mar 78 Poet Worker? Edinburgh
Jean -”- Wife Mar 76 Stirling
Mary -”- Daughter S 40 Dundee

Comments (3) »

  1. Frank McGonigal
    In the year 2011, on the 9th day of December at 4:57 am

    I’ve found so many different spellings of McGonigal during my years of researching my family history…McGunigal,McGonnigal,McGonegal,McGonigle etc.,
    I did a project on the “POET” a few years ago to see if I could find a connection,but couldn’t.Norman Watson of Dundee ,who recently wrote a new book on the “POET” used some of my research in writing it.
    Frank McGonigal Ont.Canada.

  2. John McGunigal
    In the year 2014, on the 10th day of March at 4:53 am

    Hey Frank,

    I’d be interested to see where our family trees connect. I’ve been working on a family tree so far and have reached up to my Great Great Great Grandfather which would be Andrew McGunigal married to Euphemia McGunigal. Its starting to get fuzzy when it comes to research at this point. I’ve been told that he had three other brothers Jim, Adam, Steve McGunigal, I wonder why the McGunigal/McGonigal name was changed as often as it was in these records… (email

  3. Allan Bruce
    In the year 2015, on the 22nd day of October at 5:41 am

    Not only does the spelling of McGonagall vary enormously, but William’s age varies miraculously from census to census, apparently ageing anywhere between 6 and 16 years per decade. So I guess we’ll never know how old he was when he died, 76, 79 or something else!

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