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
The Scottish government has taken a census every ten years since 1801 except in 1941. The censuses from 1841 to 1891 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 the census was taken
|1841||6 June 1841|
|1851||30 March 1851|
|1861||7 April 1861|
|1871||2 April 1871|
|1881||3 April 1881|
|1891||5 April 1891|
|1901||31 March 1901|
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 their name, sex, address, occupation, and 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. From 1851 to 1931, censuses were taken between 30 March and 7 April. These censuses list the names, ages, occupations, relationships to the head of the household, and parish and county of birth (except foreign births, which give country only) of each member of the household.
Finding Census Records
1841 through 1891
The Family History Library has the 1841 through 1891 censuses on microfilm. Click on a year below to go to the Family History Library Catalog entry for that year:
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.
1901 and 1911 Census
The 1901 and 1911 census are available online from the General Register Office for Scotland's website ScotlandsPeople. This is a pay for view website. The minimum fee of £7 GBP (about $11 US) gives you access to the database for 90 days and gives you 30 page credits with which you view search results and documents (1 credit per page of search results viewed and 5 credits per document viewed).
Original census records
The original census records are available at:
New Register House
Edinburgh, EH1 3YT
Telephone: 0131 334 0380
Searching Census Records
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.
All existing Scottish government census records are indexed. There are surname indexes as well as street indexes for larger cities. You should always search an index before searching the census.
Census indexes are available online at these sites:
Available at http://www.ancestry.co.uk. This site provides indexes to the 1841 through 1901 censuses, but no images of the documents. Many options are available to narrow search results including name, place, residence, birth year, birth place, occupation, and the names of relatives.
This is a subscription website but you may use it for free at the Family History Library and some larger family history centers. As you search any database, you need to keep in mind that the more information you put into a search, the more you limit the search results, and you could end up missing the person you are actually looking for. So try your search with the least amount of needed information and then if you need, add more if the number of search results is too great.
Available at http://www.freecen.org.uk/ FreeCEN is part of FreeUKGEN, an initiative aimed at helping make high quality primary (or near-primary) records of relevance to UK genealogy conveniently and freely available online, in a coherent, easy to access and search, information retrieval system. The site recommends you check back often as new indexes are added where you can search both Scotland and English Census records for free.
Available at http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
This site has both indexes and images of the 1841 through 1901 censuses available. This is a pay for view website. The minimum fee of 6 GBP (about $10 US) gives you access to the database for 90 days and gives you 30 page credits with which you may view search results and documents (1 credit per page of search results viewed and 5 credits per document viewed). As you use this site, any search result or document you pay to view is saved in your personal account and you never have to pay for that item again.
Some information will be helpful to use this site such as:
- First and last name of the individual you are looking for.
- Parish/district name.
- County name.
- Approximate age.
Many people in Scotland have similar names, so the more you can narrow your search, the better for results.
The Family History Library has some surname and 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:
- 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 Family History Library Catalog under:
SCOTLAND - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
[COUNTY], SCOTLAND - CENSUS - 1881 - 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 Family History Library Catalog under [CITY], [COUNTY], SCOTLAND - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES.
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