England Census

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England Genealogy Gotoarrow.png Census Further InformationGotoarrow.png Census Records Online

Census of the Population 1871 (England and Wales).png

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Historical populations
Census Pop.
1801 8,305,362
1811 9,553,021 15.0%
1821 11,281,883 18.1%
1831 12,992,485 15.2%
1841 15,002,443 15.5%
1851 16,921,888 12.8%
1861 18,779,811 11.0%
1871 21,495,131 14.5%
1881 24,613,926 14.5%
1891 27,231,074 10.6%
1901 30,514,967 12.1%
1911 33,649,571 10.3%
1921 35,230,225 4.7%
1931 37,359,045 6.0%
Source: 1931 Census - Online Historical Population Reports

A census is a statistical count of the population of a country taken for the purpose of accurate government representation, tax collection and military purposes. The first complete census in England was conducted in 1086 under William the Conqueror who was the first Norman King of England. As the new king, he wanted an accounting of land owners who held lands belonging to the crown along with the number of owned livestock. A detailed history of this survey is available online from History Magazine which was published in October/Nover 2001.

In England, the government census have taken place every ten years since 1801, however, these earlier censuses were taken strickly for statistical purposes by the Overseers of the Poor and the clergy.

The first census listing people by name was taken in 1841 with the census traditionally being taken every ten years since then except for 1941 (due to WW II) along with the fact that the 1931 census was destroyed during WW II. Census records are generally released 100 years after they are taken. Because of this situation with 1931 and 1941 census records there will be a thirthy year gap.  These records are one of the best ways to locate ancestors at a given place and time.

Although the 1841 census is of great value, it had some limitations. It was originally produced on blue paper and inscribed with pencil. Many of the original images on film were very poor but the digital quality has improved them. In the 1841 census, relationships were not given, the age of individuals older than 15 years was rounded down, and specific birthplaces were not provided. The 1851 census and subsequent censuses provide more detailed information, making it easier to find family members.

The percentages shown in the chart to the right are the percentage of increase in population since the previous census year.

Further information: Further Information and Description and England Census

Understanding the Census[edit | edit source]


Instructions to the census taker were to list only those persons who spent the night in each household when the census was taken. Those traveling, staying at boarding schools, or working away from home were listed where they spent the night. For example, night watchmen are often listed under their employer’s business address rather than with their families. Guy Etchells has assembled a collection of the official instructions given to enumerators for each census.

Be aware of the date of each census for family members as that will help in determining the birth year for family members as it is reported. The date that each census was taken is as follows:

1841 – June 6 1881 – April 3
1851 – March 30 1891 – April 5
1861 – April 7 1901 – March 31
1871 – April 2 1911 – April 2

The following information can be found in the censuses:

Pre-1841 Census[edit | edit source]

The 1831 census was collated by the census office and the resulting Parish Register Abstracts form an important part of the published census material, because from it alone, the clergymen's manuscript returns have survived. The records are held at The National Archives of the UK under 'Clergymen's returns of 1831' (HO71/1-HO71/124.)  Detailed information on pre-1841 census records can be found in:

  • Chapman, Colin R., Pre-1841 Censuses and Population Listings in the British Isles.  Dursley, Gloucestershire, England : Lochin Publishing, 1998 (5th ed). (Family History Library book 942 X27cc, 1998)

Pre-1841 censuses generally contain only numbers of individuals in a household, but some do contain individual names of the head-of-household.

Further information: England Census: Further Information and Description

1841[edit | edit source]

  • Name of each member of the household
  • Sex/gender
  • Age (for adults 15 and up, the age was rounded down to the lower multiple of 5)
  • Address
  • Occupation
  • Whether or not the individual was born in the county in which they were living on June 6, 1841. (If it is ‘yes’ , it is noted with “Y” and for ‘no’ it is noted with “N”.)
  • A column indicating if born out of the country, i.e. “S” for Scotland; “I” for Ireland

Only individuals in the home on the census night were listed on the forms with the exception of individuals working through the evening and returning home in the morning. If a family member was visiting they would be listed in that person's home. Note: Individuals who were staying in other locations were listed by the owner of the establishment and this included those who were living in tents.

There are missing sections which have been lost. A detailed listing can be found on findmypast.com.

This census was conducted by the Registrar General and has the identifying marks of "HO" which stands for 'Home Office'. The returns were sorted and copied into enumerator's books in the format seen today in the digitized online records.

1851 to 1901[edit | edit source]

  • Name of each member of the household
  • Sex/gender
  • Age – hopefully exact
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition – marital status
  • Occupation
  • Parish and county of birth (except foreign births, which usually gave country only)
  • The 1851 and 1861 censuses list whether a person was "blind, deaf, or idiot."
  • The 1871 and 1881 censuses list whether a person was considered an "imbecile, idiot, or lunatic."
  • The 1891 census added the number of rooms (if less than 5) that the family occupied. It also listed whether the person was an employer or an employee.

A detailed listing of the changes made to the census over the years starting in 1841 can be found on the G

GENUKI website in the Census section. (Examples of Census - 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871) NOTE: Some of the websites have not yet updated their pages to include the 1911 census. Findmypast.com also provides a comprehensive overview which is also very helpful.

The census can also provide a good approximation of date and place of deaths and marriages. Census records are used in combination with church records and civil registration records in locating ancestors.

1911[edit | edit source]

  • Name of each member of the household
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Age at last birthday
  • Sex/gender
  • Particulars as to Marriage including:
    • Marital condition
    • Completed years the present marriage has lasted
    • Total (number of) children born alive 
    • Children (number of) still living
    • Children (number of) who have died
  • Profession or Occupation 
    • Industry or service of work
    • Whether an employer, worker, or working on own account
    • Whether working at home
  • Parish and county of birth of everyone in the household
  • Nationality of every person born in a foreign country
  • Lists wether a person was "totally deaf, deaf and dumb, totally blind, lunatic, imbecile, or feeble-mined"
  • The 1911 Census was the first census where original forms were kept. Handwriting is that of ancestor.

Statistical Data Gathered from the Census[edit | edit source]

There is statistical data available for every census year from 1801 to 1931 on Online Historical Population Reports - the Online Historical Population Reports (OHPR) website. The statistical data records the number of houses, families, people, and other statistical data for every parish in England. It allows one to see the growth of parishes and regions from census year to census year. There are only a few name lists created on the parish level for the census years 1801, 1811, 1821, 1831. Consult an archive in your county to determine what may be available.

Finding and Using Census Indexes[edit | edit source]


Many repositories, including the Family History Library, hold a number of indexes to the census records. They may be:

  • Original Census records from 1841-1891
  • Surname Indexes
  • Street Indexes
  • Some remnants of 1801-1831 censuses that include names

Online[edit | edit source]

Several websites have now published online many of the census indexes and records from 1841-1911. The sites are as follows:

For the 1911 census: www.1911census.co.uk

For more details about each website, see England Census

Smaller Local Census Surname Indexes at the Family History Library[edit source]

In addition to the nationwide census surname indexes, there are many smaller surname indexes, created by individuals and family history societies in England, that cover specific counties, districts or parishes. The following links will direct you to pages that show these smaller surname indexes for each county, and which are found in the Family History Library's collection.

Bedfordshire Indexes Berkshire Indexes Buckinghamshire Indexes Cambridgeshire Indexes
Cheshire Indexes Cornwall Indexes Cumberland Indexes Derbyshire Indexes
Devon Indexes Dorset Indexes Durham Indexes Essex Indexes
Gloucestershire Indexes Hampshire Indexes Herefordshire Indexes Hertfordshire Indexes
Huntingdonshire Indexes Kent Indexes Lancashire Indexes Leicestershire Indexes
Lincolnshire Indexes London Indexes Middlesex Indexes Norfolk Indexes
Northamptonshire Indexes Northumberland Indexes Nottinghamshire Indexes Oxfordshire Indexes
Rutland Indexes Shropshire Indexes Somerset Indexes Staffordshire Indexes
Suffolk Indexes Surrey Indexes Sussex Indexes Warwickshire Indexes
Westmoreland Indexes Wiltshire Indexes Worcestershire Indexes Yorkshire Indexes

Online Tutorials[edit | edit source]

Hands on keyboard.png Genealogy courses: Learn how to research from an expert in Behind the Scenes: Two Centuries of Census-taking.

Finding and Using Census Records[edit | edit source]

Census records are more easily available than ever before. Caution should be used when searching them for family members. Never assume what isn’t there or “leap” generations in linking individuals.

Important Searching Point[edit | edit source]

A number of items need to be considered while searching census records for family members:

  1. Names may be misspelled – both Christian and surnames could have variant spellings.
  2. Ages and birthplaces may not be accurate – consider who was reporting the information.
  3. Relationships may not be expressed in terms understood today – regionally “in law” and “step” are   terms that have different meanings.
  4. Jurisdictions changed – as population grew and shifted, jurisdictions changed.
  5. People may not be where they are expected – a disaster or plague may have forced a family to move.
  6. Pages may be unreadable – use “zoom” and other enhancements on digital copiers.

Census details changed little from year to year.  See a detailed listing of the changes made to the census over the years starting in 1841. At the GENUKI website you will find an excellent explanation of the census records and availability. (Examples of Census - 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871) NOTE: Many of the websites have not yet updated their pages to include the 1911 census.

Further information: England Census: Further Information and Description

A worksheet can be used to record information found in census records.

References[edit | edit source]