Scotland Census, 1851 (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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FamilySearch Record Search This article describes a collection of historical records available at
Access the records: Scotland Census, 1841Scotland Census, 1851Scotland Census, 1861Scotland Census, 1871Scotland Census, 1881, and Scotland Census, 1891.

What is in the Collection?

The British government has taken censuses every 10 years since 1801. This guide covers censuses of Scotland from 1841 through 1871.

Scotland's population was enumerated on the following dates:7 June 1841, 31 March 1851, 7 April 1861, 2 April 1871, 3 April 1881, and 5 Apr 1891.

This data has been provided by

Census schedules consist of large sheets with preprinted rows and columns. The schedules are arranged by county and then divided by civil parish. Some are further subdivided into smaller enumeration districts, each district being an area that could be enumerated in a day. The only exception to this is the 1841 census, which was arranged by “hundreds” (administrative subdivisions of land). The information was recorded in columns on two pages that face each other. Information is recorded in entries that cover two facing pages. For reference purposes, the National Archives assigned a piece number to each enumeration district and stamped a folio number in the upper right corner of each right-side page.

The original schedules are well preserved and housed at the Public Records Office in Kew. Microfilm copies are located at the Family History Library, at the Family Records Centre in England, and at county record offices and some libraries. Parts of the 1841 and 1861 censuses are faint and sometimes unreadable. This has occurred through damage or neglect in storing the records. An attempt is now being made to preserve the records by transcribing and publishing them. Some of these preservation efforts are being published in book form, while others are being posted on the Internet.

The Registrar General created the national censuses of the British population. However, the actual gathering of information was usually done by the Home Office of each county with assistance from the county sheriff. The census was completed in one day, then the census books were sent to the Registrar General’s office in London. Almost all of the residents of Scotland are included in the census.

The Registrar General created censuses for several reasons, including population studies, accessing military readiness, compiling lists of eligible voters, and tracking relief to the poor.

The information gathered by the census taker is only as reliable as the person who provided the information. While some information may not be completely accurate, it can still provide important clues in locating an ancestor.

Enumerators went door to door collecting the data in census books. The census takers listed only those who spent the night in each household, so individuals who were traveling or at school were listed where they spent the night.

Collection Content

Census records for 1841 contains the following information:

  • Names of each household member
  • Gender
  • Address
  • Occupation
  • Whether the individual was born in the county
  • Age (The census taker usually rounded the ages of those older than 15 down to a multiple of 5.)

Beginning with the 1851 census the information includes the following:

  • Names
  • Ages
  • Parishes and counties of birth
  • Occupations
  • Relationships to the head of the household for each person
  • Sometimes the birth country for people born outside of England

How Do I Search the Collection?

As you are searching it is helpful to know such information as your ancestor’s given name and surname, some identifying information such as residence and age or birth year and birth place, and family relationships. Remember that there may be more than one person in the records with the same name as your ancestor and that your ancestor may have used nicknames or different names at different times.

Search the Collection

To search this collection by name:
Fill in the requested information in the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information about the ancestors in the list to what you already know about your ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person. You may need to look at several images and compare the information about the individuals listed in those images to your ancestors to make this determination.

What Do I Do Next?

Use the birth year and birth place to search in the Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 collection.

Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Given names may not be the same as a name recorded in church or vital records.
  • The information may be incorrect.
  • Names may be spelled phonetically (or as they sounded to the census taker).
  • Place-names may be misspelled.
  • Individuals missing from a family may be listed elsewhere in the census.
  • Married and widowed women sometimes used their maiden names.
  • Children might have taken the name of the stepfather if the mother remarried.
  • The family name may have been altered after emigration from Scotland.
  • Try finding family members who may be listed with your ancestor on the census record. Images of the record may not be available for this collection, but clicking on the GS Film number that your ancestor's name was found in may bring up search results of other individuals who appear on the same record.
  • Look for people who have the same surname as your ancestor and who live in the same vicinity; they may be related.
  • Look for the families of children in later census years.
  • Check each census for the period in which a person lived to verify the information in any particular census year and to find additional information.
  • You may have to read around marks made by the clerks who compiled the census data. These marks sometimes obscure the information.
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Don't overlook FHL Place Scotland items or FHL Keyword Scotland items in the FamilySearch Library Catalog. For other libraries (local and national) or to gain access to items of interest, see Scotland Archives and Libraries.

General Information About These Records

If there is no index available, you need to know where the person lived. Check for an index that will identify where the family is located in the census. If no index exists, search the film entry by entry to locate the family.

Census records are a good source to use as you search for your relatives. Use the ages to approximate birth dates. Use the places listed to search for births or baptisms in the Old Parish Registers (OPR).

It is important to know that for the 1841 census, enumerators were instructed to round down the ages of persons 15 years and over to the nearest five years. For example, someone who is 32 would be listed as 30; someone who is 49 would be listed as 45. As a result, ages recorded could be very different from the actual age. You will find instances where enumerators did not adhere to this instruction on age and inserted the given age.

Known Issues with This Collection

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See a list of known issues, workarounds, tips, restrictions, future fixes, news and other helpful information.

For a full list of all known issues associated with this collection see the attached Wiki article. If you encounter additional problems, please email them to Please include the full path to the link and a description of the problem in your e-mail. Your assistance will help ensure that future reworks will be considered.

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How You Can Contribute

We welcome user additions to FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles. We are looking for additional information that will help readers understand the topic and better use the available records. We also need translations for collection titles and images in articles about records written in languages other than English. For specific needs, please visit WikiProject FamilySearch Records.

Please follow these guidelines as you make changes. Thank you for any contributions you may provide.

Citing this Collection

Citing your sources makes it easy for others to find and evaluate the records you used. When you copy information from a record, list where you found that information. Here you can find citations already created for the entire collection and for each individual record or image.  

1841 Census

Collection citation:

"Scotland Census, 1841." Database. FamilySearch. : accessed 2016. Citing The National Archives, Kew, Surrey and New Register House, Edinburgh.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

When looking at a record, the citation is found below the record. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for Scotland Census, 1841.

1851 Census

Collection citation:

"Scotland Census, 1851." Index. FamilySearch. : accessed 2016. Citing The National Archives, Kew, Surrey and New Register House, Edinburgh.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

When looking at a record, the citation is found below the record. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for Scotland Census, 1851.

1861 Census

Collection citation:

"Scotland Census, 1861." Index. FamilySearch. : accessed 2016. Citing The National Archives, Kew, Surrey and New Register House, Edinburgh.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

When looking at a record, the citation is found below the record. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for