England Census

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Introduction to England and Wales Census[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

The census is a head count of everyone in the country on a given day. A census has been taken in England and Wales, and separately for Scotland, every ten years since 1801, with the exception of 1941. [1]

A well-indexed census is one of the easiest ways to locate where an ancestor lived and when they lived there. You can also use censuses to:

  • Follow the family over time
  • Determine family relationships
  • Find clues to other locations where the family lived
  • England and Wales Censuses with Online Links[edit | edit source]

    1841 1851 1861 1871
    National Archives*
    1881 1891 1901 1911 1921

    *1801-1831 detailed information on incomplete records

    Additional Online Links[edit | edit source]

    Census Forms and 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.

  • 1841 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1851 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1841 and 1851 Headings for the Census of England and Wales
  • 1841 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1851 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1841 and 1851 Headings for the Census of England and Wales
  • 1861 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1871 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1861 and 1871 Headings for the Census of England and Wales
  • 1881 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1891 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1881 and 1891 Headings for the Census of England and Wales
  • 1901 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1911 Census Form (PDF)
  • 1901 and 1911 Headings for the Census of England and Wales
  • Understanding the Censuses 1841-1921[edit | edit source]

    In England, the government censuses have been taken every ten years since 1801. The first four censuses, 1801 through 1831, were taken strictly for statistical purposes for the Overseers of the Poor and substantial households.[2]
    The first census listing people by name was taken in 1841.
    Census records are generally released 100 years after they were taken.

    These links give detailed information on the England and Wales censuses.

    How the Censuses were Taken

    Census details changed little year to year. Each census used a pre-printed form and were taken on specific dates. The enumeration districts were small enough for an enumerator to complete his work in one day. To avoid double counting, the pre-printed form was handed by the enumerator to the head of household with the instructions to only record those physically located at the home on census night. Therefore those away at boarding schools, working at night, on vacation, etc. were not enumerated. Conversely, relatives, boarders, servants, etc. were enumerated. The pre-printed forms were collected soon after the census date. From 1841-1901 the enumerator copied the household information onto a master form. 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
    1921 - June 19

    Pre-1841 Census[edit | edit source]

    There are 791 surviving census listings for 1801-1831 created on the parish level.[3] The few surviving pre-1841 censuses generally contain only names of the head-of-household.

    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.

    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]

    The 1921 Census includes these additional questions:

    • Age in years and month
    • People born abroad giving a country and province
    • Lists whether children were orphaned
    • Lists whether previously divorced
    • Lists if 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".

    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. National Archives Census Records How to look for records of...Census records. Date Accessed: 27 December 2021.
    2. University of Essex PDF on the University of Essex's server Census schedules and listings, 1801–1831:an introduction and guide pg.4 Date Accessed: 27 December 2021.
    3. 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.