|Scotland Wiki Topics|
|Local Research Resources|
A census is a statistical count and description of the population of a country taken for the purpose of accurate government representation, tax collection, and military purposes. Census records are a valuable source of genealogical information for Scotland because they list names, relationships, ages, places of birth, and marital statuses.
The Scottish government has taken a census every ten years since 1801 except in 1941 (due to WWII). The censuses before 1841 were taken strictly for statistical purposes. Starting in 1841, the census began listing valuable genealogical information, such as listing people by name. Census records are released 100 years after they are taken, meaning the 1921 census will be released to the public in 2021. Currently, the censuses from 1841 to 1911 are available for public use. Census records are one of the best ways to locate ancestors at a given place and time.
Although the 1841 census is of great genealogical value, it has some limitations. The census did not list relationships, marital status, or birth county and ages were rounded. The 1851 and subsequent censuses provide more detailed and accurate information, making it easier to find family members.
Understanding the Census
With each census in Scotland, pre-printed forms (known as schedules) were used. Census takers (enumerators) would hand these forms to the head of household, who would then fill out the form for their family. They were instructed to list only those persons who spent the night in the household when the census was taken. Therefore, people who were traveling, at boarding schools, or working away from home were not listed with the family, but were listed where they spent that night. For example, night watchmen are often listed at their employer’s business address rather than with their families. After the head of household filled out the form, the enumerator would copy this data into census books for the parish or registration district. As a result, names are spelled as the family spelled them at the time.
The dates of each census are as follows:
|1841 – 6 June||1881 – 3 April|
|1851 – 30 March||1891 – 5 April|
|1861 – 7 April||1901 – 31 March|
|1871 – 2 April||1911 – 2 April|
You will find the following information in censuses:
1801 to 1831
These censuses contain only statistical information. However, some parishes compiled lists of names when they gathered the information needed for the census.
The 1841 census was taken on 7 June 1841. It lists each member of every household with:
- whether or not they were born in the county
- The census takers usually rounded the ages of those over fifteen down to a multiple of five years. For example, someone who was actually fifty-nine would be listed as fifty-five.
1851 and Later
These censuses list the:
- relationships to the head of the household
- parish and county of birth (except foreign births, which give country only) of each member of the household
The questions for the censuses of Scotland were mostly similar to those of England and Wales. To learn more about what questions were asked in each census see these National Records of Scotland research guides:
This generic census worksheet can be used to record most of the information found in various Scotland census records.
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 Census for England, Wales and Scotland: missing pieces.
Accessing Scotland Census Records
The ScotlandsPeople Centre holds transcripts and photocopies of the existing pre-1841 (1801-1831) census records and other early population records. See the Pre-1841 Census Records Research Guide on the National Records of Scotland website to learn more.
Pre 1841 Statistical Data
There are statistical charts available for the 1801, 1811, 1821, and 1831 Scotland censuses. The government gathered statistical data to see the economy of the people. The data listed occupations, housing, and populations for every parish in Scotland. It also noted changes from the previous census and reasons for those changes. See the Online Historical Population Reports wiki page to learn more.
The only website with all censuses between 1841 and 1911 is ScotlandsPeople ($). FamilySearch has the censuses between 1841 and 1891. Ancestry ($) and FindMyPast ($) have the censuses between 1841 and 1901. Only ScotlandsPeople has both the indexes and the images for each census; the other three websites only have the indexes.
If a search on one of these websites does not uncover the desired person or family, try searching on a different website because each has a different searching algorithm.
FreeCEN has a small number of records for Scotland, see their coverage tables.
Family History Library
The Family History Library has the 1841 through 1891 censuses on microfilm, all of which has been digitalized and put online. Images are not linked to the indexes on FamilySearch. To find the correct image, obtain the microfilm number for the result or person you are searching (located in the citation below each entry in the index). Find that microfilm and click the camera icon next to the it in the Catalog in order to view the images.
Click on a year below to go to the FamilySearch Catalog page for that census year (lists all of the microfilms for that census):
The census films are arranged first by county, starting in the north of Scotland and working south. Then within a county they are arranged in alphabetical order by parish.
To find the census records for a specific parish of interest, do the following in the library catalog:
- Make a Place Search for the parish name.
- From the list of topics for that parish, click on the link for the topic of CENSUS.
- Click on the link for the Census returns, 1841-1891, for that parish.
Smaller Local Census Surname Indexes
In addition to the nationwide census surname indexes, there are many smaller surname indexes, created by individuals and family history societies in Scotland, that cover specific counties, districts or parishes. Visit the Scotland Census Surname Index wiki page to learn more about these indexes and where to find them.
Street Name Indexes
If you have your ancestor’s street address for the time period of the census you are searching, you may search the census for that address and see if your ancestor is there. Street indexes exist for larger towns or cities. You might find an address in letters, directories, civil registration certificates, church records, court records, and tax records.
The Family History Library has some street indexes in booklet form or microform. To find them, look in the FamilySearch Catalog and do a Place Search for any of these combinations:
SCOTLAND - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
[COUNTY], SCOTLAND - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
[PARISH or TOWN], [COUNTY], SCOTLAND - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
[CITY], [COUNTY], SCOTLAND - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
1881 Surname Index
The 1881 Scottish census index is also available on microfiche. Each county has indexes arranged by:
- Census place.
- A transcription of the census as it appears on the microfilm.
The indexes and transcriptions are available on microfiche at the Family History Library, Family History Centers, the Registrar General, and at record offices and family history societies in the British Isles. ScotlandsPeople also includes this LDS index for 1881.
A national index for Scotland is also available. The national index consists of a surname index and a birthplace index. The county birthplace indexes are organized first by surname and then by birthplace. The national birthplace index is organized first by birthplace and then by surname.
To find the numbers for the 1881 census indexes, look in the FamilySearch Catalog under:
SCOTLAND - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
[COUNTY], SCOTLAND - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
When searching any census records, remember:
- Search indexes first.
- Information in the census may be incorrect.
- Accept the ages with caution.
- Given names may not be the same as the names recorded in church or vital records.
- 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.
- There could be more than one family in the same locality by the same name with very similar information. Check the census thoroughly.
- A woman, especially a widow, might be listed under her maiden name.
- Notice who the neighbors are. They may be related.