British Family History

A Guide to Getting Started in Genealogy

Recording the CensusCensus Records

What is a Census?

The census is a complete population count for a given area or place taken on a specific date every ten years. The 1841 census is considered to be the first modern UK census, and is the earliest census that is widely available for access.

Each householder was required to complete a census schedule giving the address of the household, the names, ages, sex, occupations and places of birth of each individual residing in his or her accommodation. From 1851, householders were asked to give more precise details of the places of birth of each resident, to state their relationship to him or her, marital status and the nature of any disabilities from which they may have suffered.

The enumerator then collected the census schedules and these were copied into census enumerators' books. These books were kept and now reside in the PRO archive.

Finding an Ancestor in the Census

It is necessary for you to know the name of the town or area your ancestors lived in. Knowing a more detailed address can help you locate an ancestor, but this is not needed. However, rural areas can be researched fairly quickly.

Information provided in the Census

Click to view an example page from the census
To view an example page from the census, click the image above.

All census records include Forename & Surname, Age, Sex, Occupation, and Address.

In 1841, the only other piece of information recorded was the county of birth - this only tells you if the person was born in the same census county (usually has a y/yes or n/no).

From 1851, more information was added. This included the town/county of birth, the relation to head of household, marital status, and medical disabilities. Employment Status was also recorded from 1891.

Census details also included visitors and servants, who sometimes provide further clues.

Tips & Things to Remember

  • House and street names can change dramatically in ten years, so be flexible in your searching!
  • Make a note of neighbours and local professions, and look for married children living nearby.
  • Information in the 1841 Census is limited - if a person was over 15, their age is usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years, and their birthplace is either 'y' or 'yes' if they were born in the same county, or 'n' or 'no' if they were born elsewhere.
  • Consider spelling variants, wrong names/ages, and the possibility that some people were not recorded.

Viewing Census Records

  • View the original enumerators' books at The National Archives in Kew, and the Family Records Centre in Islington - click here to see how to get there. (This can be a lengthy and expensive process, it is recommended you buy the census records on CD-ROM or view them on the internet.)
  • Complete indexes, transcriptions, and scans of the original pages can be viewed at TheGenealogist.co.uk
  • Indexes and transcripts are also available at RootsUK, and they offer a free search of the census records.

More Information about the Census

You can view more information about the census at UKCensusOnline.com, which also holds links to interesting sites about different census years, and the census in London, Lancashire and Yorkshire. This is worth looking at, as there is a wealth of information on these pages.