A census is a count and description of a population. A census may list only selected persons (such as males between the ages of 16 and 45) or the whole population. The percentage of people listed varies with the purpose of the census and how carefully people were enumerated. Different civil and ecclesiastical authorities have taken censuses for their own purposes, which include:
- Population studies
- Military readiness (militia lists and so on)
- Taxes for relief of the poor (called "poor rates")
- Recording eligible voters (poll books)
The national census records are especially valuable because they list nearly the entire population and are readily available at many repositories, including the Family History Library.
Using the national census is essential for Welsh genealogical research, especially in the industrial districts of south Wales, where most people were originally from a rural area. From 1851 onwards, census records give the parish of birth for each individual in a household.
The British government has taken censuses every ten years since 1801, except for 1941. The first census to list every person by name was taken in 1841. Earlier censuses contain only statistical information, but some parishes did compile lists of names while gathering information for the census, a few of which survive. See the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CENSUS
A list of existing pre-1841 census records and other census records is found in both of the following books:
- Chapman, Colin R. Pre-1841 Censuses & Population Listings in the British Isles. 4th ed. Dursley, England: Lochin Publishing, 1994. (FHL 942 X27cc 1994.)
- Gibson, Jeremy, and Mervyn Medlycott. Local Census Listings 1522–1930: Holdings in the British Isles. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1992. (FHL 942 X23gj.).
Census records less than 100 years old are confidential and cannot be searched by individuals. However, the 1901 census can be searched for you. To obtain an application and information about the cost for this search, write to:
Office for National Statistics
Census Legislation, Room 4303
Segensworth Road, Titchfield
Hampshire PO15 5RR
The search will be done only if you provide the name and address (at the time the census was taken) of the individual you are seeking. You must also get written consent of the person on the record or of a direct descendant. The individual’s age and birthplace will be the only information provided.
|1911||2 April||available from 1 January 2012|
|1921||19 June||available from 1 January 2022|
|1931||26 April||this census was destroyed during World War II|
|1939||29 September (National Registration)||available from 1 January 2040|
|1941||no census taken owing to World War II||-|
|1951||8 April||available from 1 January 2052|
|1961||23 April||available from 1 January 2062|
|1971||25 April||available from 1 January 2072|
|1981||5 April||available from 1 January 2082|
|1991||21 April||available from 1 January 2092|
|2001||29 April||available from 1 January 2102|
Understanding the Census
The 1841 census was taken on 7 June. Most of the later censuses were taken between 31 March and 8 April, every 10 years. Instructions were to list only those persons who spent the night in each household when the census was taken. Those travelling, staying 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.
You will find the following information in the censuses:
1841. This census lists each member of every household with their name, sex, address, occupation, and whether or not they were born in the county or out of the country. The census takers usually rounded the ages of those over 15 down to a multiple of 5 years. 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.
1891 and later. These censuses also list the language spoken (English, Welsh or Both).
The census office organized the census by civil registration districts, which were subdivided into enumeration districts. The only exception is the 1841, census which was arranged by hundreds (hundreds are 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. These registration districts crossed both county and national boundaries! For example the town of Llangollen, in the county of Denbighshire, was part of the Corwen registration district, even though Corwen was in the county of Merionethshire. Similarly, the town of Chirk, in Denbighshire, was in the Oswestry registration district, even though Oswestry was in the county of Shropshire in England.
Important: Several Welsh census records are lost! The 1841 censuses of upper Merthyr Tydfil and the entire parishes of Wrexham and Ruabon in the north-east are missing, as are many of the 1861 censuses. Sometimes, a lost census return is found and the Clwyd Family History Society have 'retrieved' parts of the Wrexham returns for 1841. Announcements about records that are found are usually given by a family history society journal for the area that is involved. See the "Periodicals" section of this outline for information on locating a family history society journal. It is sometimes possible to locate another record that can substitute for a census. For example, part of the missing census for Merthyr Tydfil can be supplemented with the following record:
Glamorgan Family History Society. Register of cottage leases, Dowlais Iron Company, 1818–1877. [Glamorgan, Wales]: Glamorgan Family History Society, [1996?]. (FHL book 942.97/D2 R2g.)
Searching Census Records
When searching census records, remember that:
- Ages may be incorrect.
- Given names may not be the same as the name recorded in church or vital records.
- Information may be incorrect.
- 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.
- Parts of the 1841 and 1861 censuses are faint and sometimes unreadable.
Surname indexes are available for select places for some census years. See the section on "Census Indexes" below.
In big cities, an address will help you find your ancestor in a census, especially where street indexes exist for the city.
The following sources may help you find an address:
- Old letters
- City, occupational, postal, or commercial directories
- Civil registration certificates of births, marriages, and deaths
- Church records of christenings, burials, and marriages
- Probate records
- Newspaper notices
- Court records
- Tax records
- Rate books
- Voting registers or poll books.
Locating Census Records
Pre-1900 original census records are at the Public Record Office (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for an address). The National Library of Wales, most county record offices, the Family History Library and the Family Records Centre (see the "Civil Registration" section of this outline for the address) have microfilm copies of the census records.
Census Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of all of the government censuses from 1841–1891. The following work, commonly known as the Census Register, gives film numbers for each census year and is arranged by parish, town, village, or city:
Index of Place Names Showing the Library Microfilm Numbers for the 1841–1891 Census Records of England, Wales, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1992. (FHL book 942 X2pi; microfiche 6024509.)
The microfilm and microfiche numbers may also be found in the Family History Library Catalog in the Place Search under:
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CENSUS
Population tables (see the "Civil Registration" section of this outline) and other aids may help you pinpoint a location on the microfilm or solve unusual difficulties you may have in finding a locality on the census.
Census indexes can reduce the time it takes to search a census. Some surname or street indexes exist for some areas.
Surname Indexes. Before you search the actual census, look for a surname index. There are many surname indexes for Welsh censuses. Most of these indexes have been produced by family history societies in Wales, and many are available at the Family History Library. The indexes vary in format and information. Some list surnames only, while others give complete transcriptions.
Before you use an index, make sure it covers the area you need. An index may cover part of a parish, a whole parish, a town, a subdistrict, or a district.
Surname indexes produced in Wales give the Public Record Office reference, which usually includes a piece or bundle number. To convert the bundle number in the surname index to a Family History Library call number, use:
- 1841 FHL book 942 X22p 1841; film 599273
- 1851 FHL book 942 X23c
- 1861 FHL book 942 X2pib
- 1871 FHL book 942 X23cp
- 1881 FHL book 942 X22g; microfiche 6035786
- 1891 FHL book 942 X22i 1891
The Family History Library Catalog lists surname indexes under:
WALES, [COUNTY] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
WALES, [COUNTY], [DISTRICT] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH or TOWN] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
You can also check the Census Surname Index Register (not cataloged typescript) at the Family History Library. This register is not available at Family History Centers.
To find surname indexes which may not be available at the Family History Library, look in:
Gibson, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Hampson, eds. Marriage, Census and Other Indexes for Family Historians. 6th ed. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1996. (FHL book 942 D22m 1996.) This is an inventory of the indexes that are available for marriage, census and other helpful genealogical records. It is arranged by country and then by county.
1881 Census. There is a complete transcription and index on microfiche for the 1881 census returns of England, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and the Royal Navy. The index is also available on compact disc, with a partial transcription.
The index and transcription were produced through a joint effort of the Federation of Family History Societies and the Genealogical Society of Utah.
The compact disc version, 1881 British Census and National Index (50169), is available for purchase. It can be searched either nationwide or by region. The regions include the following counties:
- East Anglia-Bedford, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, Norfolk, Northampton, Rutland, Suffolk
- Greater London-London, Middlesex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Oxford, Surrey, Buckingham, Essex, Hertford, Sussex, Kent
- Midlands-Cheshire, Hereford, Shropshire, Stafford, Worcester, Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, Warwick
- North Central-Lancashire, York
- Northern Borders and Miscellany-Channel Islands, Cumberland, Durham, Isle of Man, Northumberland, Royal Navy, Westmorland, Miscellaneous
- Southwestern-Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucester, Somerset, Wiltshire
- Wales and Monmouth
The microfiche version is available for use at the Family History Library, Family History Centers, and other record repositories (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline). The microfiche can be searched either nationwide or by county.
Within the nationwide index are two indexes:
- Surname Index (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- Birthplace Index (alphabetical by birthplace, then surname)
Within each of the county indexes are seven sections:
- Surname Index (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- Birthplace Index (alphabetical by surname, then birthplace)
- Census Place Index (alphabetical by surname, then census place)
- Census Record-as-Enumerated
- Miscellaneous Notes (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- List of Vessels/Ships (alphabetical by ship’s name)
- List of Institutions (alphabetical by institution’s name)
See 1881 British Census Indexes (34933) and Using the 1881 British Census Indexes (34700) for additional information.
To locate the microfiche numbers for the 1881 census indexes, look in the Family History Library Catalog under:
[COUNTRY] - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
[COUNTRY], [COUNTY] - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
Street Indexes. If you know the address at which an ancestor may have lived, a street index can help you quickly find your ancestor in the census. Street indexes are available for major cities in Wales.
You can also determine if a street index is available at the Family History Library by looking in:
Register of Towns Indexed by Streets. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1998. (FHL book 942 X22r 1999; microfiche 6026692.)
If the above register does not list the town or district you need for a particular year, look for a street index in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
WALES, [COUNTY] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
WALES, [COUNTY], [CITY, PARISH OR DISTRICT] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
- National Library of Wales