A big advantage of searching for people with unusual names is that they are easy to trace in databases. Here is one example, a family who fell upon hard times. Note that sometimes first names vary from record to record.
I first came across the name of Censi in the catalogue entries at the National Archives for naturalizations in St Leonards. On the 26 October 1880 Francesco Censi of Italy, resident of St Leonards on Sea, was naturalized with certificate A3359. This document is available on Ancestry, and states that Francesco was 44, an Italian subject, of 19 Eversfield Place, married, with two children under age, namely Romolo Filicia, aged 7, and Ethella Maria, aged 11 months [she is referred to as Itala in all other records].
I found ten hits for the name in our area in the censuses, ranging from 1891 to 1911.
In the 1891 census Francesco Censi, 52, ran a lodging house at 14 Eversfield Place. He was born in Rome, Italy. His wife Harriett was born in Gloucestershire. They had two children, one being 17-year-old Romolo, a clerk, the other 11-year-old Itala. There was also “grandmother” Mary White, a 64-year-old widow, companion, born in Gloucestershire. She was in fact Francesco’s mother in law, and the “grandmother” referred to her relationship to the children rather than, as mandated, the head of the household.
In the 1901 census the family was again at 14 Eversfield Place. The household was the same, with Romolo a grocer’s clerk, and Mary White correctly identified as the mother in law.
In 1911 there were two entries. Romolo was a boarder at 2 Bank Buildings, Hastings, a book-keeper. His mother Harriet was listed as a married woman, formerly a lodging house keeper, who was one of several hundred “inmates” in the Hastings workhouse. She was incorrectly stated to have been born in Hastings. Where was Francesco ? And why was there no entry in 1881 when he was living in St Leonards in 1880 ?
These census entries told me a lot but I looked for more. Find My Past allows searching by street name alone. In the 1881 census the Cenci family weren’t at 14 Eversfield Place, but at no. 19, again running a lodging house. I hadn’t found it before as the database relies on computers searching and not the human eye transcribing entries. Itala was aged one, explaining Susan Marsh, a domestic nurse. There was also a 17-year-old servant, born in London, Bina Guidotte. Annual directories would have been a good option although these began later in the 1880s. They provide listings by house numbers.
Francesco Censi had married Harriett White in 1873 in the St Marylebone district of London. It was probably a Catholic wedding, as Anglican records are well indexed on Ancestry.
Newspapers can be a rich source, especially for unusual names, although we still have the problem of computer generated hits. They often “add flesh to the bones”, as clearly shown for this family, taken from Find My Past, which includes the British Newspaper Archive:
Kent and Sussex Courier, 5 July 1878:
An act of gallantry, that up to the present time has unwittingly escaped attention at the hands of the local press, was witnessed on Wednesday afternoon of the week before last. It appears that a little boy was running along the drainage pipe opposite Warrior-square, when he suddenly slipped into the water, the sea at the time being high, and the depth of water being eight or nine feet. The calamity was witnessed by several people who were on the parade, amongst whom was a man of the name of Censi, a resident in St Leonards. Mr Censi, with great presence of mind, seeing the danger the child was in (and that the boatmen in the vicinity, being either unaware of the accident or else thinking the affair a trifle, did not deem it necessary to push their boats off and rescue the unfortunate child), at once divested himself of his coat, plunged into the water, and brought the little fellow safely to land. As is usual in such cases, the rescued, not the rescuer, was the principal object of attention. Mr Censi quietly replaced his garment and walked away as if nothing had occurred. Mr Censi deserves much praise for the courage he displayed, but for which the child’s life must undoubtedly have been sacrificed…[Continues by blaming builders for excavating the beach for materials, and asking that the town council stops this]
Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 29 November 1879:
Hastings Borough Bench. George Sellman was summoned for having, on the 21st November, assaulted Francisco Censi.
Mr Mann was for the defendant, who did not appear.
Francisco Censi, living at 19, Eversfield-place, lodging-house keeper, said he saw the defendant and another man in Eversfield-place at one a.m. on the day in question. Witness had been for a doctor, and was coming back. One of the men nearly knocked him down. Sellman then said he would knock him down. They ran after him and struck him.
In answer to the Clerk, witness said that the other man was named Fred Hemmings.
Fined £1 and costs; in default, fourteen days’ hard labour.
Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 27 December 1879:
An inquest was held at the Infirmary on Tuesday evening before C.D. Jones, Borough Coroner, to enquire into the death of Charles Morris. Mr Kent was chosen foreman of the jury, who were sworn, and, having viewed the body, the following evidence was adduced: —
Francisco Censi, a lodging-house keeper, living at 19, Eversfield-place, said – I knew the deceased; his name was Charles Morris. He was a butler out of employ. I think his age was 31. He comes from London. I employed him in my house yesterday afternoon. About twenty minutes past two he was cleaning one of the back windows on the third floor. Nobody was helping him. The last words I said to him were “Be easy, Charlie; don’t go outside.” He had no machine. He could clean the window without standing outside. I afterwards heard screams. I rushed out into the yard, and saw the deceased on the ground. I caught hold of him, and he said, “Don’t hurt me.” I sent for Dr Penhall, who ordered him to be brought here. Deceased was sober.
By a juror – I don’t think he was a person likely to commit suicide.
Alice Brasier, a servant in the employ of Mr Censi, said – I was standing in the scullery between a quarter and half-past two, and saw deceased fall past the window. I knew he had gone upstairs to clean the windows. I had not seen him cleaning any of them. I went for the doctor…[Dr A.R. Ticehurst of Pevensey Road was at the infirmary when Morris was brought in. Morris had a fractured left thigh, a lacerated wound over the brow, and apparently internal injuries. He died ten minutes later. The post mortem showed a torn liver, and his stomach had been forced into the chest. “The jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death, and said that all men who clean windows should be made to use a machine.”]
The same issue had a report on St Leonards Collegiate School’s “entertainment” on Monday evening at the Assembly Rooms. Romolo was awarded a prize for writing.
In 1881 Censi was mentioned being present at two Conservative Party gatherings. In 1893 and 1894 his daughter Itala was mentioned twice, winning a prize for needlework at Braybrooke College (in Holmesdale Gardens), and playing a solo and in a duet at the piano at an entertainment by the college at the Public Hall. She also received prizes for music and attendance.
There are other scattered references in the early 1900s – for example Romolo was clearly a keen cyclist, and Itala played the role of Xmas in a charity parade, “charmingly attired”. Not mentioned in the newspapers is that Itala married, 23 April 1905, at St Mary Magdalen, as of 14 Eversfield Place, Albert La Vesa, shop manager, of 10 Upper Park Road. However things turned grim for the other members of the family, as hinted at by Harriett being in the workhouse in 1911.
The Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 10 March 1906, reported on the case of Tree v Censi and another in a dispute over £42 10s in rent that was owed. Alderman B.H.W. Tree, JP, owned 14 Eversfield Place, and had rented it out to Francesco Censi from 1900. Currently this was £170 per annum. In 1904 the son had paid the rent, and the father wrote to the son apparently saying he could not pay the June 1905 quarter’s rent. Tree thought that the son had had the lease assigned to him, and “had not the slightest objection to the son as his tenant.” In fact the son acted as his father’s agent under a power of attorney. Judgment was for the plaintiff.
The Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 7 April 1906, less than a month later:
Henrietta [sic] Censi was summoned for being drunk and incapable. – P.C. Cogger said on Tuesday he found defendant, who was drunk, lying on the pavement at Stone-street. There was a bottle of whiskey near her. – Fined 10s and costs (£1 1s in all). – Paid.
Things become clearer a week later, in the issue of the 14 April 1906, in a long report. Romolo was of  Wellington Road and came up for his public examination for bankruptcy. He owed £82 and had assets of £16. In 1903 his father had assigned the lease of 14 Eversfield Place to him and his sister. “He did not understand the matter then, but had since found out. The business was continued by his mother till his father went away on the 15th May, 1905. He understood the assignment was to protect his mother, and that “she should have something to go with.”” The father had left the house without giving any notice to the landlord, and may have gone to Italy. There was some mention of the furniture and of finances, including that Romolo had inherited £30 from his grandmother. There were suspicions that he had in fact inherited £200 and was unwilling to settle up with Tree. “Alderman Tree observed that he was obliged to take debtor’s answers, but he did not believe him !” Tree was Ben Harry Went Tree, who in the 1911 census, aged 66, was living at 15 St Margaret’s Road, a company director living on private means with two female cousins and two servants. As for Romolo’s grandmother, she had died on the 28 April 1905 (several days after her granddaughter’s wedding) leaving an estate of £270. A mere week later Romolo obtained probate. A lot happened in April and May 1905.
Romolo’s army records are on Find My Past. He joined the Royal Army Pay Corps on the 24 November 1914 from a Blackheath address. He was 40, a cashier, five foot seven inches in height, weighing 136 pounds. He was invalided out in 1920, having served as a Corporal and only, it seems, in the Blackheath area. In 1915 he married Elizabeth Adams in the Hastings district. He died in 1955 in Surrey. His mother had died in 1921 in the Hastings district. As so often, Francesco vanished, possibly, indeed, back to Italy.