The British Census 1801-1901 (plus 1911)
The first Census in England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man was taken on the 10th March 1801. Subsequently the Census was taken every ten years, except 1941. The records for 1931 were destroyed during the subsequent War. The first four Census are of statistical interest only on a whole, although some notes survive which are of interest to the family historian in some areas.
As today the enumerator would deliver the form to the household, which they would later collect, check and enter into their printed book of forms. The literate members of the community could help the illiterate. There is clearly the possibility of errors to be made.
For the first time the householder would have to supply the name of the place, the full names of everyone in the house, their age and sex (correct up to 15yrs, but after reduced to nearest 5yrs), their profession, trade, employment or state if of independent means and if born in the County, Scotland, Ireland or Foreign parts. The enumerator also entered the information for end of household and/or end of building.
The householder would have to supply more information from here on, which is of great benefit to the family historian. These entries contain the number in the schedule, name of the street, place or road name, name or number of the house, name or surname of person resident in the house on midnight of that date, relationship to head of family, (servants, lodgers, visitors also), marital condition, exact age, sex, rank or profession or occupation, where born with exact place of birth and if blind, deaf or dumb, and later if an idiot or lunatic. The last set of information requires accurate copying by the Census enumerators, be aware that my grandfather is in the 1901 Census as being Deaf and his children are quite sure that he was not. The entry should have been for the person above him probably as there were lots of crossings out and corrections.
1911 - Website at www.1911Census.co.uk
Recently there has been a big fanfare to the launch of the British 1911 Census online. A lot of misinformation has been printed by newspapers who have interviewed and quoted out of context remarks by genealogists. Lets look at the facts.* To look at images of the Census costs, you buy credits and use these to purchase images. (for the costs of these refer to the website)
* Not all Counties or Countries in the UK have been released to the website and you will have to check the website list to find out which areas have been published.
* Not all the information available on the Census records has been released.
Information available for publishing on the website is 8 times the material available for the 1901 Census. The Census took place on the night of Sunday 2nd April 1911. It contains all the usual information available for 1901, but may also include who their guests were on that night, the presence of servants, if the person was an employee or employer and Nationality. Interestingly, information also included the likelihood of the recording of the duration of the current marriage, number of children, how many children were born and how many of these were still living. Unlike previously the household schedules were available for copying and they are included on the website. Unusually there was a political boycott of the Census by the Suffragette supporters in that year.
Disability information which is available on the Census originals has been 'redacted' (removed in real English) for legal reasons until 2012 as this was judged to be personal and sensitive.
The latest Census that can be consulted
Census records are released every 100 years, so the latest records that are fully available are those of the 1901 Census. The 1911 Census will be fully available in 2012, but most of the information is available now at a cost, for more information see the relevant paragraph above.
The dates for the Census are 6th June 1841, 30 March 1851,7th April 1861, 2nd April 1871, 3rd April 1881, 5th April 1891, 31st March 1901 and 2nd April 1911
Where can Census Records be found?
Records for the Census for England and Wales can be consulted at the The National Archives on microform and on their computers. The office is open six days a week. Remember, the Census is divided into Census Enumeration Districts which are a useful finding aid to the researcher. It is worth checking neighbouring parishes, workhouses, prisons, hospitals, barracks, asylums, ships and prison hulks. Census records are usually available in large libraries in the area and some years may be available at the County Record Offices. A 1881 Census Index is widely available (see below) and some family history societies have compiled other indexes. Write to them for more publications information - there is a list in the Genealogical Services Directory also known as the Local History Handbook.
Many Census records can be accessed through the websites of various commercial companies. Though these can be also seen at the National Archives for free. With the development of the companies who are producing Census records on CD there are now many choices that the researcher can make as to how they research on the Census. A good page to start at would be http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/familyhistory/census/default.htm Check the Family History Magazines for the names of the various companies who are producing Census on CD and DVD.
Census on-line companies include:
findmypast.com http://www.findmypast.com/home.jsp and home of the initial stages of the 1911 Census.
1901 Census at GenesReunited www.GenesReunited.co.uk and http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/census/default.htm
The 1881 Census Index for England
The Federation of Family History Societies and the Mormons have produced the 1881 Census Index on microfiche, CD Rom and online. The information was copied from the original 1881 Census Data by volunteers. This was then checked before inputting. Although it is a boon to Family Historians and well worth study there are errors in the data so anything that is found on the indexes needs checking with the originals.
The Data Fields of the Index do not allow for large amounts of information, for example the occupation field, so the originals need checking for this reason also. Also absent from the indexes is the disability information which is part of the original Census Data.
The 1881 Census index is also available on CD ROM from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in England at 0870 0102051. This is recommended for any serious student of families in the 19th Century. There is more information in the data fields which is a boon for any family historian. The margin of error is usually regarded as being quite small. You can always seek out copies of the originals to check. The 1881 Census Index is also on the Mormon website http://familysearch.org. You might find that the CD Roms are easier to search than the website so they might be preferable. I certainly are not throwing mine away.
There are four parts to the 1881 Census Index - on fiche
1. People Index - People in alphabetical order by surname, given name, and age. With all other details including relationship to head of household.
2. Birthplace Index - People in alphabetical order by surname and birthplace. For example all the Smiths born at Morley, West Yorkshire will be together etc., Not all Enumerators information is in the index.
3. Census place Index - People in alphabetical order by surname and census place. For example all the Smiths living at Morley, West Yorkshire will be together etc., Not all Enumerators information is in the index.
4. Enumerators List - Places and people in the order in which they appear on the Census. I would advise that this is accessed using the Public Record Office references from the other indexes. The advantage of this list is that you can get the names of all who lived in the household and not just members of the same named family.
Comment on the digitalised Census on the Web (1901)
The service for 1901 was launched in January 2002 and was an absolute disaster of the first order. Provision had been made for over one million users to use the service - and sixty million users were trying to log on. The Service was taken down for a while. Further digitisation of other Censuses is in the process of being carried out, but this would not have the same presure of use.
Later in the year the access was restored. I think most family historians will find it of great use, though the development of the digitised Census on CD Roms has probably attracted many family historians to the benefits of having downloadable digital images. The widespread availability of 'cheapish' ways to digitise film and microform will be an interesting development in making available family history resources. Advertisements in Family History Magazines or stalls at Family History Fairs will supply you with the names of companies who supply these.
Census - Other parts of the British Isles:
Records are available at the General Register Office, New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 2YT. Also try the Scotlands People website at: http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
The Census records for 1821 to 1891 were on the whole destroyed. 1901 and 1911 are available. For more information contact the PRO, Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland or the PRO, 66 Balmoral Ave, Belfast, BT9 6NY., for Northern Ireland.
Higgs E. (1996), A clearer sense of the Census, the Victorian censuses and historical research, Public Record Office Handbooks, No 28, London, HMSO.
This page is compiled by Timothy J. Owston of York, England, February 2009.
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