Photographs provide the clearest clues, of course. Many family albums will contain snapshots of pets (labelled with names if you're very lucky!). But photographs are not the only way our pet-loving ancestors got their furry friends into the archives. Newspaper articles can provide a treasure trove of information about animals and their owners. Often these appeared as working or racing animals (e.g. prize herds of cattle, farm horses, racing dogs) or in the context of the law (e.g. dog license applications, charges of mistreating horses). Sometimes animals are mentioned in obituaries or biographies of more prominent members of the community and at other times, specific animals cause a stir themselves. This brilliant article from the Manchester Mercury in 1824 (below) describes a dispute between neighbours over a cat that had been "improperly moistening" the plants in a nearby garden.
Extract from the Manchester Mercury, 20th April 1824 describing a neighbour dispute over the actions of a tom cat (The British Newspaper Archive)
Outside the realm of newspapers, some people even managed to get their pets on the census! Between 1841 and 1901, the censuses were recorded by official enumerators who noted down information provided by householders and followed strict guidelines about what should be included. In 1911, however, householders were asked to fill in their own form, opening the door to individual and typically wry interpretations of the rules.
1911 census entry for Timothy the Cat and Jack the Dog (National Archvies: RG14/Pc20398/Sch 322)
One keen pet owner, Nottinghamshire music teacher, Frances Catherine Stone, chose to include Timothy The Cat and Jack The Dog on her census return (above). Other notable examples include the Bird family of Warwickshire who included their cat "Tom", listing his occupation as "eating; sleeping" (National Archives: RG14/Pc18335/Sch215) and the Green family from Derby whose cat "Blackie", a tomcat of unknown age, worked at "roving communion" and suffered from the infirmity of "stopping out late" (below).
Blackie the Cat in the 1911 census entry for the Green family of Derby (National Archives: RG14/Pc20935/Sch330)
Although on each of these occasions the unimpressed enumerator summarily crossed the pets out, their inclusion on the 1911 census, as well as their frequent appearances in newspaper and photographic archives, demonstrates that our relationship with domestic animals hasn't changed all that much over the centuries. This is summed up nicely by the census entry for the Lewis family of Eslwick, Northumberland, who listed the marital status of their cat as "single but not without family" (below).
Domestic Cat belonging to the Lewis Family of Elswick, Northumberland on the 1911 census (National Archives: RG14/Pc30583/Sch151)
Please note that census images are the copyright of the National Archives. They can be accessed in full online via paid services at Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast.co.uk.