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CENSUS RETURNS
 
  General

Census returns have taken place in England and Wales every ten years since 1801. They detail all those occupying every household in every street in every neighbourhood throughout England and Wales. The censuses taken in 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831 are generally of statistical value only with names not normally recorded.

However from the 1841 census onwards when name recording started, censuses provide a valuable snapshot of families at a moment in time. They uniquely list whole families (or at least all those together on the same day) rather than individuals with valuable detail on each household occupant, especially age and place of birth.

The census returns are closed by law for 100 years to protect personal confidentiality. This means that the latest census available for family historians to research is the 1901 Census,

     
   
     
  Information Provided

1841 Census

 
  • Household - place name and parish only
  • Each household occupant - forename, surname, occupation, gender, age (rounded down to nearest 5 years if age over 15), whether born in same county, Scotland, Ireland or in a foreign country
  1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 Censuses
 
  • Household - full address
  • Each household occupant - forename, middle names or initials, surname, occupation, gender, age, relationship to head of household, marital status, county and parish of birth or foreign country of birth, if disabled the type of disability, PLUS from 1891 onwards in Wales whether language spoken is Welsh, English or both
     
   
     
  Caution

Ages

   
  • Children's ages were often boosted to circumvent child labour rules
  • Teenage girls in domestic service often exaggerated their age to get higher wages
  • Those on poor relief wanting to avoid workhouses claiming to be over 60 when they were in fact younger
  • Wives deceiving their husbands about their real ages
    Relationship to Head of Household
   
  • Disguised illegitimate births such as an unmarried daughter's illegitimate child being passed off as the youngest child of her father
  • Remember that only the occupant's relationship to the head of the household is stated - do not assume the wife is the occupant's mother
    Places of Birth
   
  • Over 10% of birthplaces given in urban censuses do not tie in with earlier or later census information
  • A common habit of misleadingly 'generalising' a birthplace to the town or city nearest the actual birthplace
  • The same place name can refer to very different locations (be it a hamlet, village, town or parish)
     
   
     
  Access Internet Access
 
  • 1901 Census: The fully indexed 1901 Census can be viewed online at www.1901censusonline.com. Both the person and address indexes can be searched at no cost. Viewing transcribed data for an individual costs 50p and then a further 50p for a list of all other occupants in that individual's household. Viewing a digital image of the census page costs 75p. The person index in addition to operating on surname, forename and age range, facilitates narrowing down a search for an individual by second and further forenames, by gender, by marital status, by occupation, by birthplace, by relationship to head of household. Payment can be made by credit card, debit card or by voucher.
  • 1881 Census: The fully indexed 1881 Census can be freely viewed online at the www.familysearch.org web site operated by the Latter-day Saints (i.e. the Mormons). This excellent free site provides name indexed access to transcripts of all household records held in the 1881 Census.
  • 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891 Censuses: Each of these censuses can be viewed online at www.ancestry.com. A month's trial subscription costs £9.95 and a year's subscription costs £69.95. It is also worth checking out FreeCEN which is a site providing free access to census records with several counties now 100% complete (this project is now manned by over 2,000 volunteers transcribing census records)
  CD-ROM
 
  • 1881 Census: The complete and fully indexed 1881 Census is provided in a reasonably priced (under £30) boxed set of 25 CD-ROMs published by the Latter-day Saints. It can be ordered online from the Latter-day Saints web site. This computerised version of the 1881 Census is the culmination of a mammoth project lasting over 6 years and involving well over a million hours of transcribing and checking by literally thousands of volunteers.
  • 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891 Censuses: CD-ROM coverage is patchy from county to county and from census year to census year. However, coverage is being continually extended and you are recommended to check the advertisements in the genealogical magazines to see what is currently available for purchase.
  Microfilm / Microfiche Copies
 
   
   
   
 
   
 
This page last updated: 23 November 2006