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ENGLISH & WELSH ROOTS - Census Records 1841-1891 - Part I
Article posted: June 25, 1999
By: Fawne Stratford-Devai   Biography & Archived Articles

The census is one of the key sources for the family historian. This issue of English and Welsh Roots is the first of a two part series examining the importance and use of 1841-1891 census records. Ever wondered the date when the census was taken (enumerated) or; the latest news on the release of the 1901 census (in 2002)? In addition to valuable information about and important source of English and Welsh information, this issue includes both online and printed resources with a few unexpected "extra bits" as well.

Census records, like records of civil registration and parish records are one of the key sources for the family historian. A census reveals who was living at a particular address in a particular place on census night. Every ten years, the census provides researchers with a snapshot of individuals and families across the nation. The census shows each person's name, their relationship to the head of household, age, and much more. It places family members together and offers a bridge to a previous century. More importantly, the various census provides a critical link between government registered births, marriages and deaths (after 1837) and parish registers of baptism, marriage and burial.

A census is a complete population count for a given area or place taken on a specific date. In the United Kingdom, the first census to include people's names was the 1841 census. However, there has been a National census every ten years in England and Wales since 1801, excluding 1941. In 1941 instead of a census, a national registration took place and national identity cards were issued. The census returns for 1931 were destroyed, along with many other important records, during the intense fighting of the Second World War.

The first four censuses were little more than simple head counts of the population. In addition, the administration of the early census returns was quite different. From 1801-1831 the census was the responsibility of the Overseers of the Poor and the clergy. These early census records will be discussed in later issues of the Gazette.

The first modern census is considered to be the 1841census when each householder was required to complete a census schedule giving the address of the household, the names, ages, sexes, occupations and places of birth of each individual residing in his or her accommodation. More importantly, the administration of the census passed into the hands of the Registrar General and the Superintendent Registrars, (who were also responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths). It is not surprising then that civil registration and census taking became inter-connected and any change in local boundaries or districts affected them both. This is a very important point because if you can find the boundaries of the civil registration district where your family resided, you will also know the boundaries of the area where they are recorded on a census.

There are maps available of the registration districts in England and Wales including separate maps for the period before and after 1851. In the 19th century there were more than 600 registration districts in England and Wales. An excellent online resource is the Index of Places in England and Wales provided on the GENUKI website. This resource will show for each place listed, the county and registration district in which the place was situated during the years 1837-1930. The website is located at: . There are a number of resources to help researchers find these boundaries which have been discussed in detail in previous issues of English and Welsh Roots. In particular readers may want to revisit the first of a two part discussion on Civil Registration at: The Global Gazette, issue 26.

The actual books used by the enumerators from the 1841 census onwards have been preserved. Theses books contain names, ages, occupations and addresses, and from 1851, place of birth, marital status, the relationship of each person to the head of the household and the nature of any disabilities from which they suffered. Apart from a few minor changes the basic structure of the census schedule did not change until 1891. In 1891, householders were then asked how many rooms (if less then five) their family occupied. Additional occupational data was collected and, in Wales, people were asked to say if they spoke the Welsh language.

After information was recorded on pre-printed census schedules. A schedule was left with a household and later collected by the enumerator. If there was no one in the house who could write, the enumerator helped to record the information. The census enumerator then copied the information on the schedules into their official books known as census enumerators' books. These books and the schedules were then sent to London where clerks who were hired specifically for the census, copied and extracted information in the books in order to calculate various local and national statistics. Unfortunately, the original census schedules have been destroyed and it is the census enumerator's books that researchers see on the microfilm. Because the information in the books is a COPY of the information on the schedule, there were often mistakes made in transcribing the information. The May 1999 issue of the magazine Practical Family History includes an article on how the census was conducted in 1861.

Date census conducted and information requested:

1841 Census:

The 1841 census was taken on June 6, covers midnight on June 6th and 7th. (The midnight time period also applies to each following census). The census is filed at the Public Record Office in group code HO 107 (HO=Home Office)

  • Place (street name, house number or house name)

  • Houses (inhabited, uninhabited or a building)

  • Age and sex of each person, males were in one column, females in a separate column. Ages up to 15 are listed exactly as reported/recorded but ages over 15 were rounded to the nearest 5 years (below). So, a person aged 63 would be listed on the census as age 60 years. Someone aged 69 would be recorded as 65 years

  • Occupation/profession or trade. Some people are simply listed as being "of independent means"

  • Birthplace but only if the person was born in the county where the census was taken (usually recorded as a yes or no) If they were not born in the county there would be an entry such as S - for Scotland or even an F for "born in foreign parts"

The end of each building is shown with two slashes //. Likewise the end of each household in a building is shown with one slash /.

1851-1891 Census:

1851 census was taken on March 30/31. Public Record Office (PRO) reference HO 107.
1861 census was taken on April 7/8. PRO reference - Record Group (RG) 9.
1871 census was taken on April 2/3. PRO reference - RG10.
1881 census was taken on April 3/4. PRO reference - RG 11.
1891: census was conducted April 5/6. PRO reference - RG 11.

Information requested included:
  • Number of the schedule

  • Name of Street, place or road

  • Household number
  • Name - First and last name of each person in the house on midnight on the 30/31 March

  • Relationship of all persons listed to the head of the household

  • Marital Status (condition) - married, unmarried, widow, widower

  • Age and Sex - was supposed to be listed as the exact age of the person at the time of the census. Many researchers will know that ages were not always reported accurately. Many people did not like the idea of such detailed information being collected to start with!

  • Rank, Profession or Occupation. This information was supposed to be included for everyone and reveals a diverse range of occupations - many of which no longer exist today. Ever wondered what an ADVERTISEMENT CONVEYANCER was? - How about a sandwich board man! There is a great website for a List of Occupations at: This list is a must for anyone trying to understand changing occupations and their labels over time.

  • Where Born. Place of Birth

  • Medical condition (blind, deaf, dumb, imbecile, etc.)

In 1851, in addition to the census of the population, a Census of Places of Worship was taken on March 30th. Although this was purely voluntary, most places of Worship made returns. The census shows the name and denomination of all places of worship - Anglican, Catholic and all forms of non-conformist and dissenting churches. Although this census is not widely used by family historians, it is an important resource for determining if a non-conformist chapel was located near your family and perhaps that is the reason they are not showing up in other parish records! A number of counties have transcribed these returns. Visit the web site for the Family History Society or Genealogical Society for your county of interest to determine if they have transcribed this important census.

In 1881 the age question was asked as "Age at last birthday". To view a sample of a census form online, visit the website of David Roles at:

The LDS have been providing research outlines on a variety of topics for family historians for many years. These outlines are now available online at their main family search website. In particular visit the following web page: for the research outline on using the 1881 census. The outline was originally written in the days when the census was accessed primarily on different coloured fiche. However, this outline lists the standardised set of abbreviations for the relationships to the heads of households, and the 3 letter "where born" abbreviations.

How to access census records:

The Family Records Centre, Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UW, holds microfilm copies of the census returns for England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891. The original books are held by the Public Record Office in London and the information is released by the Public Record Office after a hundred years. The last census to be released occurred on January 1, 1992 when the 1891 census returns were released on microfilm.

The census microfilm is also available to researchers at a distance through the local Family History Centres of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).To find the location of a Family History Center near you, visit the following website of the LDS: For a much more detailed discussion of the resources to be found through the LDS read the earlier issue of English Roots which was devoted to this topic, The Global Gazette, issue 25.

The LDS Family History Library Catalog is now online and searchable at the following website: Researchers can now search the catalog online to determine the microfilm number(s) of particular census to order the film from your local Family History Center.

Local Family History & Genealogical Societies have been working for many years to index or transcribe completely various census for their areas. These transcriptions are available in many forms: on microfiche, as printed indexes or even as a searchable database held by the local society which can be searched for a fee. A good starting point for finding the society for your area of England/Wales is the Family History and Genealogical Societies web page at the GENUKI web site:

Census Records on the net and on CDROM:

Increasingly the transcriptions and indexes created by genealogists are making their way into a variety of electronic formats, including CDROMs. This is also true of census records. The following list is meant to highlight many of the records currently available either online or on CDROM:

Ron Taylor's UK Census Finding Aids and Indexes:
target="_blank"> Indexes to over 2.2 million names from the U.K. Census (mainly 1851). This web site is devoted to the free distribution of UK Census Index Data. It contains various indexes to UK Census Data, mainly from the 1851 Census, for purposes of Genealogical and Family History Research.

Worcestershire - 1851 Ashton Under Hill Census Data & 1851 Bretforton Census Data: John Salter's website offers the text of the above census online.

1871 Census for Cornwall: A search of the index to the 1871 Census for the County is now available from the Cornwall Family History Society for a fee. The index contains just over 360,300 entries. The Society is starting to transcribe and data enter other census years for Cornwall, in particular they are concentrating on 1841. For complete information, visit the Society's website at:

1851 + Censuses of Gloucestershire & Southern Warwickshire: Gordon Beavington has produced 1851+ census indexes for Gloucestershire and Southern Warwickshire - a number of these indexes (by no means all of them) are available from the GENUKI Census Index site. These indexes are also available on CD. Note that Gordon's Indexes list distinct surnames only. This means spouses, children and other relatives with the same surname as the "Head" are excluded; but the Indexes do include Stepchildren, In Laws, Servants, Lodgers, Apprentices, Visitors, Boarding School Pupils and Inmates at Workhouses, and Prisons. In effect, this amounts to everything typed in the original files as upper case. For additional information, visit the GENUKI Gloucestershire site at:

1851 Census Yorkshire "strays": A list from the 1851 Census of Yorkshire strays (people born in Yorkshire, but not in Yorkshire at the time of the census) in the counties of Devon, Norfolk and Warwickshire.

Excerpts from English census records for specific family surnames for the 1851-1891 census:

CD-Rom - 1851 census for the counties of Devon, Norfolk and Warwickshire:
Produced by the LDS Church as a pilot project to the larger 1881 census project. The CD is available from them centrally and from distribution centers in a number of countries. See earlier article on LDS for contact information The Global Gazette, issue 25 .

1851 Census Index on CD-Rom - a great explanation:

1881 Census Available on CD-Rom
After 11 years and more than two-and-a-half million hours of volunteer labour, the largest census ever to be automated is now available on CD-ROM for home use. The automated 1881 British Census, which contains information for over 30 million individuals, was announced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The data comes from England, Wales, and Scotland. Begun in September of 1987, the automated index is the result of a collective effort of volunteers from the Federation of Family History Societies in the United Kingdom and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every effort was made to reproduce the information as it was originally recorded by the British census takers in 1881.

The census has is available on twenty-five compact discs, including an eight-disk national index and viewer that allow users to quickly search across the entire database of 30+ million names. To make the census indexes more manageable and easier to use, the data has been divided into eight regions: East Anglia, Greater London, Midlands, North Central, Northern Borders and Miscellany, Southwestern, Wales and Monmouth, and Scotland.

Users will be delighted to find that the census includes enumerations for the Royal Navy in 1881. That means it lists all people living, working, or travelling on a boat or ship at the time the census was taken. The Miscellany Region even includes people who lived in poorhouses, mental institutions, workhouses, schools, hospitals, and other nontraditional residences when the census was counted.

The CD-ROM includes the Family search Resource File Viewer 2.0, which allows powerful and flexible search capabilities. Users can tag and make notes for records and download the data into RTF (Rich Text Format). The census is available for purchase in its entirety or by region through the distribution outlets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The cost for the entire census (25 CDS) is only $33 US. For system requirements and more information, see the complete press release by the LDS online at:

Dick Eastman, editor of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter reviewed the 1881 census CD-Rom in the May 25th newsletter. The review is quite extensive but highlights a number of interesting points:

    "One thing to keep in mind is that this set of 25 CD-ROM disks actually contains two separate products (besides the software): the 1881 British Census and the 1881 National Index. The 1881 British Census is the transcribed version of the actual census records. The 1881 National Index is an index to all the names contained within the 1881 British Census. The index lists individuals by last name, first name(s), relationship to head of household, calculated year of birth, census place (the parish where the census was enumerated), and the county and parish of birth, or country if the person was born outside the British Isles.

    The transcribed census records, however, show the address of the dwelling or building, the location of the house, including the town or parish, county, and country, and the full source citation showing how to find the family in the original census.

    You always start with the 1881 National Index to find a name, then switch to the 1881 British Census disks to find the actual data. Of course, these are transcribed records, not the originals. While it is convenient to read the transcribed records on a computer screen, conscientious genealogists will still check the microfilm copies of the original documents."

For more information and the complete review, read Dick Eastman's newsletter online at:

Problems with 1881 Census transcription/index:

The June 1999 issue of Family Tree Magazine has a lengthy article by Mrs Susan Lumus concerning errors in the enormous 1881 Census transcribing project. The article is referring specifically to the fiche version of the census which was released some time ahead of the CD-Rom version. However, whether some or all of the errors listed appear in the CD-Rom version is unclear. The article details names, places and various other inconsistencies and errors which have been reported to her. Mrs Lumus states that "I will do one more collection of "mistakes" to add to what has already been collected. If you would like to submit a presumed error where it applies to surnames and birthplaces,please make sure that it includes the full PRO reference,the page number and type of fiche and not just the correct entry but also the incorrect one."

Corrections should be sent BEFORE 1 September,1999 to:
             1881 Project
             Mrs Susan Lumus
             7 Mount Pleasant Road, New Malden
             Surrey, KT3 3JZ England

In a recent e-mail discussion on the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire e-mail lists, Barney Tyrwhitt-Drake pointed out a few oddities in the 1881 Census CD specifically related to Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire:

"Now that I've had time to go through all the place names that the LDS use to describe the "City or Town" where the census took place, there are some oddities as far as Bucks Civil Parishes are concerned, mainly to do with spellings. I've listed the ones I've found below. Since you can search on census place, you may need to use the LDS version instead of the more common spelling to find what you want:

Click here to read Part II of Census Records 1841-1891

About Fawne Stratford-Devai
Fawne Stratford-Devai's work on Land Records and early Ontario records is well known in the genealogy community. A published author of several Canadian and UK research books, she has also contributed articles to the Ontario Genealogical Society's newsletter "Families" as well as writing for the online family history newsletter the "Global Gazette". Biography

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