Census Returns England and Wales
How did it all begin ?
The first official census was not until 1801 when the population
of England and Wales was just 9 million. By 1851 that figure was 18
million mainly due to improved living conditions. In 1801 about 75%
lived in the country, but by 1851 this figure dropped to about 45%,
as people started to live and work in urban areas.
How often was the census taken ?
In 1931 census returns were destroyed by enemy action in the Second
World War, and in 1941 national registration and national identity cards
replaced the national census. Otherwise the national census was taken
every ten years from 1801, to the present day.
How was the census conducted ?
Between 1801 and 1831, the local overseers counted the persons
living in the parish. They recorded the number of people, as well as
the number of inhabited and uninhabited dwellings within a parish. Occupations
were classified in broad categories. The completed returns were sent
to the government for statistical purposes and then destroyed.
From 1841, census forms were distributed by enumerators
to each dwelling in their designated areas. The parish clerk, or schoolmaster,
would help complete the census returns for those who could not read,
or write, and were unsure exactly what was required. The forms were
collected, checked and then entered into a printed book of blank forms,
the originals were then destroyed. From 1841, these books were preserved
by the government.
Census returns include all persons residing in a
place of dwelling at midnight of the day shown below.
What about the accuracy of the information shown ?
It should be noted that all census returns depended on the veracity
and the memory of the information provider. Of course like today some
people lied about their ages, or were unable to remember how old they
were or where they were born. Some gave false information about childen
born out of wedlock, their marital status, their lodgers.
The Tree makes reference to HO107 and RG11 what does this mean ?
These are class references and relate to the year of the census
as shown below :-
||1841 6th June
||1851 30th June
||1861 7th April
||1871 2nd April
||1881 3rd April
||1891 5th April
||1901 31st Mar
Where HO = Home Office and RG = Register
All census returns are subject to the one hundred-year closure rule.
So returns after 1901 cannot be inspected.
The 1841 returns are not as informative as subsequent
The information recorded is as follows :-
1. Place (street name, house number, or house name)
2. Houses: inhabited, uninhabited or a building
3. Names of each person who abode therein on the night of the census,
with surname and forename.
4. Age and sex of each person. Males in one column, females in another.
Ages up to 15 years are given precisely in years. Over 15 years the
ages are reduced to the nearest 5 years. So 24 years would be reduced
to '20 years' and 29 years would be reduced to '25 years' and so on.
5. Profession, trade, employment, or 'of independent means'
6. Where born. Marked 'Y' for 'Yes' and 'N' for 'No' if born in the
county. The next column would show 'S' if born in Scotland, 'I' if born
in Ireland and 'F' if born in foreign parts.
7. The end of a building is indicated by two oblique strokes //
8. The end of each household within the building is indicated by the
use of one oblique stroke /
Relationships to the head of the household were not recorded but they
can often be guessed.
With respect to the age of the person, inconsistent entries like 53,
34 etc. can be seen, where the 'rounding' rule does not take place.
From 1851 the census returns have a similar format with small differences
on additional information captured. All relationships from 1851 onwards
are shown by reference to the head of the household.
So for the type of information available is similar
to 1851 Census structure shown as follows :-
1. Number of schedule.
2. Name of street, place or road with name or number of the house.
3. Forename and surname of each person present who resided in the dwelling
on census night.
4. Relation to the head of the family - also shows servant, lodger etc.
5. Condition - married, unmarried or single, widow or widower.
6. Age and sex. This time the actual age. Separate columns exist for
males and females.
7. Rank, Profession or Occupation.
8. Where born. Place of birth.
9. Whether blind, deaf or dumb. Extended in later years to include imbecile,
idiot or lunatic.
The 1901 Census can be found on-line at this link
It is possible to view the index free of charge, but detailed entries
At present it is not possible to include second forenames within the
search parameters to reduce the search results.