Scotland Census

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Census Records

A census is a count and description of the population. Census records are a valuable source of genealogical information for Scotland, giving names, ages, and places of birth.

Various types of censuses have been taken by different British authorities for their own purposes. This section only discusses censuses intended to include the whole population.

Understanding the Census

Oban Bothy - geograph.org.uk - 1047718.jpg

The Scottish government has taken a census every ten years since 1801 except in 1941. The censuses from 1841 to 1911 are available for public use. It is important to note that in the countries of Great Britain, the census was compiled from forms (known as schedules) filled in by the head of each household. The Census takers (enumerators) copied 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.

Census takers were instructed to list only those persons who spent the night in the household when the census was taken. People who were traveling, at boarding schools, or working away from home are listed where they spent the night. For example, night watchmen are often listed at their employer’s business address rather than with their families.

Dates of the census

1841 6 June
1851 30 March
1861 7 April
1871 2 April
1881 3 April
1891 5 April
1901 31 March
1911 2 April

Census Content

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.

1841. The 1841 census was taken on 7 June 1841. It lists each member of every household with:

  • name
  • sex
  • address
  • occupation
  • 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:

  • names
  • ages
  • occupations
  • 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

Census worksheets. The questions for the censuses of Scotland were mostly similar to those of England and Wales. This generic census worksheet can be used to record most of the information found in various Scotland census records. Or, England and Wales forms for specific census years are similar to Scotland's questions and are available at Ancestry.com:

Accessing Scotland Census Records

Online

The only sites with both an index and census images is 1) ScotlandsPeople ($) which is the government website for Scotland genealogy, and 2) FamilySearch.org for the years 1841-1891 only; however, the indexes are not at this time attached to the images. You must obtain the microfilm number to that Scottish locale for which you are searching (Ancestry.com usually publishes the FamilySearch/Family History Library microfilm number), and click the camera icon next to the locality's name (in the Catalog) in order to view the images (Hint: Ancestry.com publishes the E.D. no. and page number which makes it much easier to find the correct page.)

The other websites only have an index. It is therefore particularly useful to consult two or more of these sites if possible, since you will simply have to trust that their transcriptions are accurate.

FamilySearch, Ancestry ($) and FindMyPast ($) have all records 1841-1911 that survive. See the article Scotland 1841-1891 Censuses (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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. Click on a year below to go to the FamilySearch Catalog entry for that year:

 1841  1851  1861  1871  1881  1891

NOTE:  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.

1801-1831

The Scotlands People Centre Library holds transcripts and photocopies of some surviving 1801 to 1831 census records as well as other early population lists. Their library is located in the Dundas Room. For copies send request to enquiries@scotlandspeoplehub.gov.uk.

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

Smaller Local Census Surname Indexes at the Family History Library

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. The following links will direct you to pages that show these smaller surname indexes for each county, and which are found in the Family History Library's collection.

Aberdeenshire Indexes Angus (or Forfarshire) Indexes Argyllshire Indexes Ayrshire Indexes
Banffshire Indexes Berwickshire Indexes Buteshire Indexes Caithness Indexes
Clackmannanshire Indexes Dumfriesshire Indexes Dunbartonshire Indexes East Lothian (or Haddingtonshire) Indexes
Fife Indexes Inverness-shire Indexes Kincardineshire Indexes Kinross-shire Indexes
Kirkcudbrightshire Indexes Lanarkshire Indexes Midlothian Indexes Moray(or Elginshire) Indexes
Nairnshire Indexes Orkney Indexes Peeblesshire Indexes Perthshire Indexes
Renfrewshire Indexes Ross & Cromarty Indexes Roxburghshire Indexes Selkirkshire Indexes
Shetland (or Zetland) Indexes Stirlingshire Indexes Sutherland Indexes West Lothian (Linlithgowshire) Indexes
Wigtonshire Indexes . . .

Street Name Indexes at the Family History Library

The Family History Library has some street indexes in booklet form or microform. To find them, look in the  library 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

1881 Surname Index

The 1881 Scottish census index is also available on microfiche. Each county has indexes arranged by:

  • Surname
  • Birthplace
  • 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.

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

Street 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.

You can find the street indexes listed in the  FamilySearch Catalog under [CITY], [COUNTY], SCOTLAND - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES.

Search Guidance

When searching any census records, remember:

  • Search indexes first (see below). 
  • 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.

Statistical Data From Pre 1841 Censuses

There are statistical charts available for the 1801, 1811, 1821, and 1831 census. See the article, Histpop — 'The Online Historical Population Reports Project'. The census gathered statistical data that allows one to see the economy of the people. It notes occupations, housing, population for every parish in Scotland. It notes changes from the previous census and reasons for the changes. The parish of Urr noted below had more Houses than any other parish in Kirkcudbrightshire in 1831.


Abstract of the Answers and Returns made pursuant to an Act ...1801, 1811, 1821, 1831 Census : 1831 is also free google ebook
Parish of Urr, Kirkcudbrightshire

Employment

Years
Houses
Agriculture
Trade
Others
Persons
1801
352
refers to persons not families:233; 131; 1355;
1719
1811
456
148
132
243
2329
1821
534
180
167
292
2862
1831
589
132
218
357
3098

References