England Census

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England Census

Census, a count and description of the population, is the foundation of nineteenth century research. The first census available is 1841 and it was taken every ten years thereafter. The 1911 census is the most recent one to be released to the public. Census contains information such as:

  • Family relationships
  • Place of residence
  • Birth place
  • Age
  • Occupation

It can also provide a good approximation to date and place of deaths and marriages. Census records are used in combination with church records and civil registration records in locating your ancestors.

There are several different websites that provide access to indexed images of the censuss. Every census is indexed and can be searched online by name, age, birthplace, or locality. The indexes can be problematic in that names can be spelled in various ways and indexers fail to interpret the spellings correctly. If you cannot find a person it means you need to vary your search parameters.  The information in an index may be incorrect or incomplete. If you believe your ancestor was in a particular census area, search the census even if your ancestor is not in the index.

Census Indexes Online

Various companies have indexed the census records with images available for download. Every census is indexed online and can be searched by name, age, birthplace, or locality. The indexes can be problematic in that names can be spelled in various ways and indexers fail to interpret the spellings correctly. If you cannot find a person it means you need to vary your search parameters. The information in an index may be incorrect or incomplete. If you believe your ancestor was in a particular census area, search the census even if your ancestor is not in the index.

A collection of British census records that can be found at subscription websites:

  • www.findmypast.co.uk (1841, 1861, 1871, 1891 are indexed with images. Searching by address is possible. 1881 is an index only, without images. 1851 and 1901 are near completion.  This is a pay-per-view website.  It is available for free use at the Family History Library.)
  • www.ancestry.co.uk (All censuses for England and Wales between 1841 and 1901. No search by address is possible. Requires either a subscription to www.ancestry.co.uk or an international www.ancestry.com subscription. The library edition of the international subscription to www.ancestry.com is available for free use at the Family History Library, regional family history centers in the western part of the U.S., and at the London England Hyde Park Family History Centre.)  Follow this link for more information on searching English censuses on Ancestry.
  •  The Genealogist (All censuses for England and Wales between 1841 and 1901. Search by address or keyword or for a specific county only is possible. Requires a subscription.  Volunteers may transcribe census records in exchange for search credits.)
  • Britishorigins (Censuses for England and Wales for 1841, 1861, and 1871.)
  • The 1901 census online site (contains a free searchable index. Not only does this site contain the 1901 census, but it contains the 1841 - 1891 censuses as well.  There is a fee to view transcriptions and images.)
  • The 1911 census online site (contains a free searchable index. There are still five more counties to be added in the north of England.  There is a fee to view transcriptions and images.)

A collection of British census records can be found at various nonprofit websites:  (Volunteer driven websites)

  • Volunteers have been indexing the 1841 to 1891 census for many years at FreeCen.  Check to see if your county and or parish has been indexed.  If it has then this site will be of value to you. Volunteers are always needed to keep the site growing. Complete transcription of households are on this website
  • The 1841 and 1861 England and Wales census indexes can be searched for free at the familysearch pilot site:  This is a volunteer driven website.  This website only indexes individuals and their birthplaces and does not list places of residence.
  • A transcription and index to the 1881 census of England, Wales, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and the Royal Navy is online at familysearch.org. A compact disc version of the 1881 British Census and National Index is available for purchase. An explanation of the census index and microfiche version is online.
    The Family History Library has an online tutorial for the English census available at www.familysearch.org.      
  • The 1851 census for the counties of Devon, Norfolk, and Warwick is transcribed and indexed. This index is available on microfiche and for purchase on compact disc.


Tips for Searching Census Indexes Online

Here are some tips for searching in online indexes.

Searching online census indexes using wildcards wildcards wildcards is essential for success. Not every website may utilize the exact same wildcards. You may have to experiment with it.

When searching census records, consider the following:

  • Names may be misspelled. Try spelling variations. Even consider different first letters.
  • Ages are prone to be inaccurate.
  • Birthplaces may be misspelled or inaccurate.
  • Find the family in every possible census and compare information
  • Consider using street addresses to locate people in the census.  A relative may be living at a previous or future address.
  • Click here for more tips.



Understanding the Census

The 1841 census was taken on 6 June. The censuses taken between 1851 through 1931 were conducted between 31 March and 8 April. Instructions to the census taker were to list only those persons who spent the night in each household when the census was taken. Those traveling, staying at boarding schools, or working away from home were listed where they spent the night. For example, night watchmen are often listed under their employer’s business address rather than with their families.

You will find the following information in the censuses:

1841:  This census lists the members of every household with their name, sex, address, occupation, and whether or not they were born in the county. The census takers usually rounded the ages of those older than 15 down to a multiple of 5. 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.

The census details have changed little from year to year. There is a detailed listing of the changes made to the census over the years starting in 1841. At GENUKI website you will find an excellent explanation of the census records and availability.  (Examples of Census - 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871)  NOTE: Many of the websites have not yet updated their pages to include the 1911 census.

Registration Districts

The census office organized the censuses by civil registration districts, which were subdivided into enumeration districts. The only exception is the 1841 census which was arranged by hundreds (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.


Census Records at the Family History Library

The Family History Library has online subscriptions to various websites that give access to indexes (and sometimes images) of the census records for 1841 through 1911, and provides that access free-of-charge to library patrons.  It also has microfilm copies of the census for 1841 through 1891.  The film numbers are listed in the Family History Library Catalog by using the Place Search for the name of the parish and the topic of Census.  They are also listed in the following library source:

  • Index of Place-names Showing the Library Microfilm Numbers for the 1841–1891 Census of England, Wales, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Family History Library, 1999. (FHL book 942 X2pi, 1999; also on microfiche 6024509.)

An extension of the library are the Family History Centers located around the world. Anyone can borrow microfilm copies of census through the family history centers.  Some large centers may also have subscriptions to websites that provide online access to the census.

Census Indexes in the pre-Internet age

The library has a excellent collection of printed census indexes that have been created by family history societies in England. In the British Reference area of the library is a "Census Surname Index" register that lists all of the printed surname indexes the library has for each county. This register is not available in family history centers, but the printed indexes are also listed in the Family History Library Catalog under the county or parish as the Place and under the name of the publishing society as the Author.

For printed surname indexes that are not at the Family History Library, look in: 

  • Gibson, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Hampson, Editors. Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians.  (FHL book 942 D27gjh, 2001)

There are a few pre-1841 census records that survive. For a list, see:

  • Chapman, Colin R. Pre-1841 Censuses & Population Listings in the British Isles. Fourth Edition. Dursley, England: Lochin Publishing, 1994. (FHL  book 942 X27cc.)

How to Search the Family History Library Catalog for Census

To find microfilm numbers listed in the Family History Library Catalog, for the census of a town of interest to you, use the Place Search for the parish and click on the link for the topic of Census. If Census is not listed among the topics for that parish, it is probably part of a city. Search using the city name. You should look in a gazetteer to determine the parish where your town is located.