The UK Census

The UK Census
Reading my February 2015 Blog; Back to basics in which I talk about the 1911 UK Census, got me thinking about the subject of my February 2016 Blog.

The UK Census is perhaps the most important source for research along with birth, marriage and death records.

It is a snap shot of a family on a particular night and shows whole family groupings. The UK Census starts in 1801 as a headcount, through to 1831. In 1841 names are added, with age, occupation and county of birth. Thus the UK census becomes useful for our research. Since 1841 it has been taken every 10 years, excluding 1941 due to World War Two. 1911 is the last published UK Census due to privacy laws.


Using the UK Census

Use an ancestors birth certificate as a basis for searching. The names included (child and parents), place of birth, and fathers occupation should help identify the correct family on the first UK Census after the birth.




+ Ages rounded down to nearest 5 years; in most cases (some enumerators ignored this rule)

+ Relationship and place of birth not noted

+ A clue to place of birth as person is asked ‘whether born in same county’ (as that in which they were currently living)

+ Also asked if born in Scotland, Ireland or foreign parts

+ Occupation only one listed, where generally more than one was held.


+ Relationship to head of household given

+ Marital status

+ Middle names, or initials

+ Exact ages

+ Exact place of birth given

+ Medical disabilities recorded

+ Night workers (many omitted in 1841) recorded at place of work (although some may be listed twice – at work and at home)


+ Medical disabilities column expanded to include imbecile, idiot or lunatic


+ No further updates


+ Whether Welsh or English speaking (in Wales only)

+ Questions introduced concerning number of rooms in a house


+ Whether Manx or English speaking (in Isle of Man only)

+ Whether a person was an employee or employer


+ ‘Fertility’ questions asked (due to concerns over the falling birth rate):
+ how long married
+ how many children they had had
+ how many children survived
+ The actual householder page as filled in by your ancestor is available


General use of Census

Useful information the census could lead to:

+ Ages and places of birth; earlier birth certificates and or baptisms

+ Disappearance of a family member between census years; could indicate a death record – be careful though as they could have moved, or be visiting relatives (widow indication safer)

+ Find new family members

+ Verify ages and dates

+ Insight into household and occupations

+ Corroborate facts on bmd certificates/ vice versa

+ Look for each set of parents on each census; easy to overlook once you start looking for sons and/or daughters

+ Two short lines after a name indicate the end of an entry for one house or building; one line the end of one household

+ Be careful of inaccuracy and error; due to careless transcription, poor handwriting, heavy local accents

+ Registration districts same as BMDs, ideally need to know address as records arranged by address


How Census information was collected

Each household was given a schedule with census questions to complete. This was delivered and collected later by hand by enumerators (in charge of an enumeration district). Enumerators completed the forms for families if they couldn’t (sometimes leading to misinterpretation of names – either heard or written). Once the forms were completed, these were collected in and details copied into a printed census book. Census books should have been double checked against schedules. The skills required to be an enumerator included reading and writing. The pay was poor so many didn’t bother with high quality returns. However, completed Census books were sent to the Government Census Office where clerks extracted the information the Government required on the population. You’ll note marks, ticks and crosses on the returns indicating these checks. If you are unlucky these marks could obliterate the information you require


Useful websites for the Census









+ (surviving Irish Census 1901, 1911)


Record Offices

+ Local

+ National (the National Archives)

+ Private (Consult a National Register of these private collections through the National Archives).


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, coaching, talks, and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories could your ancestors tell?