Although the legacy of the Brontë family now lives on into its third century, the life of the sisters themselves was in fact very short-lived and all died before reaching the age of 30. As well as the famous sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Ann, there were also two elder sisters Elizabeth and Maria who both died of TB in 1825 before reaching the age of 13. The only son, Patrick Branwell, also died in 1848, at the age of 31. Emily, Charlotte and Ann are famous for their novels Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, among others.
Despite their short lives, it’s possible to trace this family in early records which are available online at www.thegenealogist.co.uk. The Yorkshire census records are now complete on The Genealogist from 1841 through to 1901, and the 1841 is the only census to show all three sisters. Emily and Ann are at home in Parsonage House at Haworth, a village on the Yorkshire moors, with their father Reverend Patrick Bronte and aunt Elizabeth Branwell. Their mother sadly died from cancer in 1821, and her sister Elizabeth then moved in to help care for the children and keep the house.
I found the census entry within a matter of seconds using The Genealogist's Keyword Master Search - typing "Emily Brontë" into the search box and choosing the 1841 Census, I clicked "Search" and was faced with two results - one was clearly the result I was looking for. Clicking on the "view image" button, I could see the whole family on the original census page from 1841.
The 1841 census entry shows Ann’s occupation as ‘Governess’ which she did from 1839 until 1845, when she then turned her attention to writing. Her two novels ‘Agnes Grey’ and ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ were published in 1847 and 1848, but her career was cut short with her death in 1849. Emily, age 20 on the 1841 census, is not listed with an occupation, but also became a Governess in 1842, later publishing her only novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ in 1847 before her death in 1848.
Charlotte is on the 1841 census age 20 at Apperley Lane in Rawden, a Governess for the Allen family. She is the only sister to appear on the Yorkshire 1851 census, now back at home in Parsonage House with her father Patrick. After publishing ‘Jane Eyre’ in 1847, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, which can be seen on the BMD index registered in Keighley in 1854, but died the following year from TB at the age of 38. She was also pregnant with her first child at the time of her death.
As well as these early census entries, their father Patrick Brontë can be traced via other records. The 1830 Parson and White’s directory of Leeds shows Patrick as ‘A.B. incumbent of Haworth’.
This was found on The Genealogist by choosing to Search "Northern Directories", and click on the "1830 Leeds Parson and White's Directory". After typing in "Bronte" and clicking Search, you can view the original page of the directory with the information.
Out of curiosity, I also chose to search the 1861 Leeds and Bradford White's Directory, just to see if there was a mention of the Brontë family. To my luck there was a small mention of "Rev P Brontë". It read: "Mr Brontë and his daughter are authors of several popular novels". This is a very valuable piece of information, as if you didn't know your ancestor wrote a famous novel, just that one sentence can take you on an exciting path of research to see what novels they wrote.
Directories can be a very valuable research tool, particularly in the years before 1841 when no census records are available. Another useful resource are Poll Books, which provide details of those who were eligible to vote. Entries can include name, address and occupation.
The Revered Patrick Brontë is recorded on the 1835 Poll Book for West Riding, his residence listed as Haworth. Patrick Brontë voted for the Honorable John Wortley as his preferred candidate, over Lord Viscount Morpeth. At the beginning of the Poll Book you can also read an address from each candidate to the electors.
Directories are available for England, Wales and Scotland ranging from 1406 to 1956 on The Genealogist, as part of a premium subscription. Poll Books are also available for Yorkshire, London, Norfolk and Suffolk from 1710 to 1868.