England Census

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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. The results of this survey were recorded in what became known as The Domesday Book. A detailed history of this survey is available online from History Magazine which was published in October/November 2001.

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

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

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 thirty 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.

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.

Further information: England Census: Further Information and Description

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

Understanding the Census[edit | edit source]


At each census, a pre-printed form was used, and this was handed by the enumerators to heads of household. They were told to only record those actually at home on census night, therefore you will not find listed at home those at boarding schools or those working at night. These were collected soon afterwards. In 1841-1901 the enumerator copied the details given onto a master form which is what survives, but in 1911 the original forms were kept, with each household having its own form.

The dates of each census were 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

Pre-1841 Census[edit | edit source]

There are 791 surviving census listings for 1801-1831 created on the parish level.[1] The few surviving pre-1841 censuses generally contain only names of the head-of-household. Consult an archive in your county to determine what may be available, or information on pre-1841 census records can be found in:

  • The University of Essex, Department of History published an easy to follow PDF file in 2004 entitled "Census Schedules and Listings, 1801-1831: An Introduction and Guide" by Richard Wall, Matthew Woollard and Beatrice Moring. This is now available at two websites: (1) The University of Essex, from which it can be readily downloaded; and (2) Academia, from which it can be downloaded by those who first sign up to enroll in Academia. The 151-page guide includes a county-by-county catalogue of the surviving name lists that have been found for the English censuses from 1801-1831, including all those listed in the following work by Chapman.
  • 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)

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.)  

There is statistical data available for every parish in the pre-1841 censuses. Consult Online Historical Population Reports article for further details.

Census Headings[edit | edit source]

The links below show the form layouts and the column headings on each census form. The headings listed the questions asked on each census (in PDF format). Also, Guy Etchells has assembled a collection of the official instructions given to enumerators for each census.

An example of an 1841 census record

1841[edit | edit source]

  • City or borough, parish or township
  • Place (street and house information)
  • Name of each member of the household (who stayed in the household the previous night)
  • Sex/gender
  • Age (for adults 15 and up, the age was rounded down to the lower multiple of 5)
  • Occupation
  • Whether or not the individual was born in the county in which they were living. (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
An example of a 1861 census record

This census is significant because it was the first census in England and Wales to name every member of a household.

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]

  • Parish or township, ecclesiastical district, city or borough, town or village
  • Place (house number, street and address information)
  • Name of each member of the household (on the night of the official census date)
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition (marital status)
  • Sex/gender
  • Age
  • 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 "deaf & dumb, blind, imbecile or idiot, or lunatic."
  • The 1891 census added the number of rooms (if less than 5) that the family occupied.
  • The 1891 and 1901 censuses list whether the person was an employer, employee, or neither.

1851: An additional census was taken of places of worship in 1851. This was a voluntary census; most places of worship participated. More information about the census can be accessed here. Additionally, this guide from The National Archives provides a better understand of the Ecclesiastical Census of 1851. Further information on this census is provided by F. Coakley

1911[edit | edit source]

  • Name of each member of the household (living in the household on the night of the official census date)
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Age at last birthday
  • Sex/gender
  • Particulars as to Marriage including:
    • Marital condition/status
    • Completed years the present marriage has lasted
    • Total (number of) children born alive
    • Children (number of) still living
    • Children (number of) who have died
  • Particulars as to Profession including:
    • 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 (foreign born only include birth country)
  • Nationality of every person born in a foreign country
  • Lists whether a person was "totally deaf, deaf and dumb, totally blind, lunatic, imbecile, or feeble-mined"
  • If able to speak in English, Welsh, or both
  • Head of family
  • Postal address

1921[edit | edit source]

A census was held in 1921 which will be released to the public in 2022. Additional questions, besides what was asked in the 1911 census, include giving age in years and month, people born abroad giving a country and province, whether children were orphaned, whether previously divorced, and whether attending school.

1931[edit | edit source]

A census was held in 1931 which unfortunately was destroyed in 1942 due to a fire unrelated to the war. However records from Scotland have survived.

The 1939 Register[edit | edit source]

In 2015 FindMyPast released the 1939 register to the public. It was a registration of the population of England on September 29th, 1939, taken for administrative purposes due to the outbreak of World War II.
This Register was to be a critical tool in coordinating the war effort at home. It would be used to issue identity cards, organize rationing and more.

The Register lists full names, full dates of birth, occupations, and addresses. The register was maintained in some form up to 1991 so changes of name upon marriage and subsequent deaths may also be noted.

The register is particularly significant due to it being 82 years old, less than the usual 100 year limit, and the fact that no census survives for 1931 and none was taken in 1941.

Missing Records[edit | edit source]

Various parts of the England, Wales, and Scotland census returns from 1841 to 1911 are incomplete and have pieces missing. FindMyPast has identified the known gaps by census year, nation, county, and village or parish in this FindMyPast article entitled "Census for England, Wales and Scotland: missing pieces".

Accessing Census Records[edit | edit source]


The 1841-1911 censuses are all indexed and the images available online. They can be searched by name, age, birthplace, locality, and household member. The easiest way to locate census records is to search by name. If this fails, search by place or as a last resort browse through the images manually.

Online[edit | edit source]

Several websites have now published online many of the census indexes and records from 1841-1911. Each site has transcribed the census independently. Since the records are often hard to read, there will be errors. Try searching across multiple sites if you can't find the name you seek.

www.familysearch.org 1841-1911 Complete Index. Images available on site or through Partners ($)
www.ancestry.com ($) 1841-1911 Index & images
www.findmypast.com ($) 1841-1911 Index & images
www.myheritage.com ($) 1841-1911 Index & images
www.thegenealogist.co.uk ($) 1841-1911 Index & images
www.genuki.org.uk (free) Links to indexes
www.censusfinder.com (free) Transcripts of some England census records
www.freecen.org.uk (free) 1841-1891 Transcripts of some England census records

Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com are all subscription sites but can be accessed for free at the Family History Library, at various Family History Centers, and through FamilySearch Partner Access. Click here for a wiki article on how best to search for census records on Ancestry.com.

Smaller Local Indexes at the Family History Library[edit | 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

Learn more effective search features in FamilySearch see Ten Powerful Search Features in the FamilySearch.org Search Engine[2]

Advice for using Census Records[edit | edit source]

Important Searching Points[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 and historically “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 (either illegible, torn, smeared, or faded) – use “zoom” and other enhancements on digital copiers.
  7. Indexes may be incomplete or incorrect – indexers were not always accurate.

If you cannot find a person it means you need to vary your search parameters or search in other indexes. If you believe your ancestor was in a particular census area, search the census even if your ancestor is not in the index.

Here is a list of obscure occupations listed in the 1841-1911 censuses.

Searching Tips[edit | edit source]

Here are some tips for searching in online indexes:

  • Use wildcards.
  • Try different spelling variations for first names and surnames or even just try the first letter.
  • Include a range of birth years (ages are prone to be inaccurate).
  • Find the family in every possible census and compare information.
  • Always consult the original census image, do not only rely on indexes or transcriptions.
  • Consider using street addresses to locate people in the census. A relative may be living at a previous or future address.

Worksheets[edit | edit source]

A generic census worksheet can be used to record information found in all census records. Or, forms for specific census years are available at Ancestry.com:

Jurisdictions[edit | edit source]

To help find census records and to locate where your ancestors lived on a map, it is important to understand the jurisdictions and administrative systems of the census. Visit FamilySearch Maps to learn more about the jurisdictions of England in 1851.

For example, in 1841, records were arranged primarily by civil parish, then by a sub-registration district, then an enumeration district.

Online Tutorials[edit | edit source]

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

There is statistical data available for every census year from 1801 to 1931 on Histpop - 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.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wall, Richard, Matthew Woollard, and Beatrice Moring. Census schedules and listings, 1801-1831: an introduction and guide. Colchester: Dept. of History, University of Essex. 2004.
  2. For more details about each website, see England Census