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Introduction to England and Wales Census[edit | edit source]
|Source: 200 years of the Census in Wales|
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.
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:
Censuses with Online Links[edit | edit source]
*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.
Understanding the Census[edit | edit source]
In England and Wales, 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.
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.
- Census returns for England & Wales
- GENUKI England and Wales:- Census
- England Census: Further Information and Description
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|
Wales Geographic Organization
The census office organized the census by civil registration districts, which were subdivided into enumeration districts. The only exception is the 1841, census which was arranged by hundreds (hundreds are administrative subdivisions of land). On the census films, each enumeration district includes a title page with the district number and a description of the area covered by the district. These registration districts crossed both county and national boundaries! For example the town of Llangollen, in the county of Denbighshire, was part of the Corwen registration district, even though Corwen was in the county of Merionethshire. Similarly, the town of Chirk, in Denbighshire, was in the Oswestry registration district, even though Oswestry was in the county of Shropshire in England.
Important: Several Welsh census records are lost! The Wales Missing Census Records Wiki article lists those missing census records and may identify possible census substitutes.
The 1841 censuses of upper Merthyr Tydfil and the entire parishes of Wrexham and Ruabon in the north-east are missing, as are many of the 1861 censuses. Sometimes, a lost census return is found and the Clwyd Family History Society have 'retrieved' parts of the Wrexham returns for 1841. Announcements about records that are found are usually given by a family history society journal for the area that is involved. See Wales Periodicals for information on locating a family history society journal. It is sometimes possible to locate another record that can substitute for a census. For example, part of the missing census for Merthyr Tydfil can be supplemented with the following record:
- Glamorgan Family History Society. Register of cottage leases, Dowlais Iron Company, 1818–1877. [Glamorgan, Wales]: Glamorgan Family History Society, [1996?]. (Family History Library book 942.97/D2 R2g.)
Pre-1841 Census[edit | edit source]
There are 791 surviving census listings for 1801-1831 created on the parish level. The few surviving pre-1841 censuses generally contain only names of the head-of-household.
- 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,
- The Online Historical Population Reports page has statistical data available for every parish in the pre-1841 censuses.
You will find the following information in the censuses:
1841. This census lists each member of every household with their name, sex, address, occupation, and whether or not they were born in the county or out of the country. The census takers usually rounded the ages of those over 15 down to a multiple of 5 years. For example, a 59-year-old would be listed as 55.
1851 and later. These censuses list the names, ages, occupations, relationships to the head of the household, and parish and county of birth (except foreign births, which may give country only) of each member of the household.
1891 and later. These censuses also list the language spoken (English, Welsh or Both).
Searching Census Records[edit | edit source]
When searching census records, remember that:
- Ages may be incorrect.
- Given names may not be the same as the name recorded in church or vital records.
- Information may be incorrect.
- Names may be spelled as they sound.
- Place-names may be misspelled.
- If the family is not at the expected address, search the surrounding area.
- When you find your family in one census, search the earlier or later census records to find additional family members.
- Individuals missing from a family may be listed elsewhere in the census.
- Parts of the 1841 and 1861 censuses are faint and sometimes unreadable.
Surname indexes are available for select places for some census years. See the section on "Census Indexes" below.
In big cities, an address will help you find your ancestor in a census, especially where street indexes exist for the city.
The following sources may help you find an address:
- Old letters
- City, occupational, postal, or commercial directories
- Civil registration certificates of births, marriages, and deaths
- Church records of christenings, burials, and marriages
- Probate records
- Newspaper notices
- Court records
- Tax records
- Rate books
- Voting registers or poll books.
Locating Census Records[edit | edit source]
Pre-1900 original census records are at the Public Record Office (see Wales Archives and Libraries for an address). The National Library of Wales, most county record offices, the Family History Library and the Family Records Centre (see Wales Civil Registration for the address) have microfilm copies of the census records.
Missing pieces. Various parts of the England, Wales, and Scotland census returns from 1841 to 1911 are incomplete and have pieces missing. Find My Past has has identified the known gaps by census year, nation, county, and village or parish in Census for England, Wales and Scotland: missing pieces
Census Indexes[edit | edit source]
Census indexes can reduce the time it takes to search a census. Some surname or street indexes exist for some areas.
You can check the Census Surname Index Register (not cataloged typescript) at the Family History Library or click on the below links to see the Census Surname Indexes in this register book. (This register is not available at Family History Centers.)
To find surname indexes which may not be available at the Family History Library, look in:
- Gibson, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Hampson, eds. Marriage, Census and Other Indexes for Family Historians. 6th ed. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1996. (Family History Library book 942 D22m 1996.) This is an inventory of the indexes that are available for marriage, census and other helpful genealogical records. It is arranged by country and then by county.
1881 Census. There is a complete transcription and index on microfiche for the 1881 census returns of Wales. The index is also available on compact disc, with a partial transcription.
The index and transcription were produced through a joint effort of the Federation of Family History Societies and the Genealogical Society of Utah.
The compact disc version, 1881 British Census and National Index (50169), is available for purchase.
The microfiche version is available for use at the Family History Library, Family History Centers, and other record repositories (see Wales Archives and Libraries). The microfiche can be searched either nationwide or by county.
Within the nationwide index are two indexes:
- Surname Index (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- Birthplace Index (alphabetical by birthplace, then surname)
Within each of the county indexes are seven sections:
- Surname Index (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- Birthplace Index (alphabetical by surname, then birthplace)
- Census Place Index (alphabetical by surname, then census place)
- Census Record-as-Enumerated
- Miscellaneous Notes (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- List of Vessels/Ships (alphabetical by ship’s name)
- List of Institutions (alphabetical by institution’s name)
See 1881 British Census Indexes (34933) and Using the 1881 British Census Indexes (34700) for additional information.
To locate the microfiche numbers for the 1881 census indexes, look in the FamilySearch Catalog under:
- [COUNTRY] - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
- [COUNTRY], [COUNTY] - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
Street Indexes. If you know the address at which an ancestor may have lived, a street index can help you quickly find your ancestor in the census. Street indexes are available for major cities in Wales.
You can also determine if a street index is available at the Family History Library by looking in:
- Register of Towns Indexed by Streets. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1998. (Family History Library book 942 X22r 1999; microfiche 6026692.)
If the above register does not list the town or district you need for a particular year, look for a street index in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
- WALES - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
- WALES, [COUNTY] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
- WALES, [COUNTY], [CITY, PARISH OR DISTRICT] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
Online Census Indexes[edit | edit source]
- 1841-1911 census indexes are available at Wales Indexed Historical Records at FamilySearch
- 1841-1911 census indexes are available at Findmypast
- 1841-1911 census indexes are available at Ancestry.co.uk
- 1841-1911 census indexes are available at The Genealogist.co.uk
- 1901 census index available at National Archives
Wiki articles describing these collections are found at:
- England and Wales Census, 1841 - FamilySearch Historical Records
- England and Wales Census, 1851 - FamilySearch Historical Records
- England and Wales Census, 1861 - FamilySearch Historical Records
- England and Wales Census, 1871 - FamilySearch Historical Records
- England and Wales Census, 1881 - FamilySearch Historical Records
- England and Wales Census, 1891 - FamilySearch Historical Records
- England and Wales Census, 1901 - FamilySearch Historical Records
- England and Wales Census, 1911 - FamilySearch Historical Records
External Links[edit | edit source]
- National Library of Wales
- UK Census Online Note that, despite the title, the website deal ONLY with English and Welsh census returns, and not Irish, Northern Irish or Scottish.
- The National Archives Note that, as above, the website only deal with the census of England and Wales (despite the use of the word "National"). The following is a list of census locations the website deals with:
- Channel Islands
- Ships in England and Wales
- From 1911 British soldiers posted overseas
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 and Wales 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.
- 1939 How-to Video for 1939 Register
- 1939 Search Engine for 1939 Register at Findmypast - index and images ($)
- 1939 England and Wales National Register, 1939 at FamilySearch - How to Use this Collection; index & images
- 1939 1939 England and Wales Register at Ancestry - index and images ($)
Sources[edit | edit source]
- National Archives Census Records How to look for records of...Census records. Date Accessed: 27 December 2021.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Research Outline: Wales (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 2000), 13-17.
A Census for 1939. As a result of the National Registration Act in 1939, the civilian population was recorded. Each person was listed with data similar to the Census and assigned a number. Data can now be researched for deceased individuals (must be proven dead) for a non-refundable fee of 42 pounds sterling even if the search is unsuccessful. Article in Hel Achau, #105, June, 2010, page 45, Family History Library Ref. 942.93 D25h