Early Census History in the UK
Full censuses have been taken in the UK every ten years from 1801 with the exception of 1941 due to the 2nd World War. In addition there was no census taken in Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in 1921. The first four censuses taken i.e. from 1801-1831 were taken purely for statistical purposes. So most of these pre-1841 censuses were destroyed or lost after the statistical information was used. However some of these early censuses did survive and in many cases there is useful information for Family Historians and Genealogists. The Family History team have dedicated a section of our site – Pre 1841 Census Records to pre-1841 census listings and records that have survived. You’ll find information on the 1801 Census, 1811 Census, 1821 Census and 1831 Census and the counties of England that hold these surviving census records.
The more detailed Censuses for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881,1891,1901,1911 have named occupants that can be searched for. The first census in 1801 was initially taken to calculate the number of men in the country that were available to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. An English Government official and statistician John Rickman is credited with drafting the first bill which became the 1800 Census Act (Also know as the 1800 Population Act). This passed into law in December 1800.
The 1921 Census – next for release
The next census due to be released is the 1921 Census for England, Wales and Scotland. The 1921 Census Date was 19 June 1921 and the census data is not due to be released for 100 years. The government has stated that it will be released in its entirety in 2022. This census remains in the custody of the Office for National Statistics. There have been various petitions over the years calling for the early release of the 1921 Census. One popular petition conducted in early 2007 reached 23,600 signatures by its deadline on 8 March 2007. The UK Government rejected the petition saying that they they needed to respect the privacy of those who originally completed the census and to comply with the assurances given at the time that the census information would not be released for 100 years.
There are no Census Records for 1931 or 1941
The 1921 census is an important census as The 1931 census was destroyed in an unexplained fire in Hayes, Middlesex in 1942 (not due to enemy bombing), and there was no 1941 census due to the second world war. So, if the 100 year rule stays in place there will be a considerable gap from when the 1921 census is released until the 1951 census. The gap is bridged by the release of the 1939 National Register (taken at the start of the second world war and used to introduce ww2 National Identity Cards and Ration Books) which includes much of the similar information to a national census but doesn’t include the place of birth.
Information on a Census Return
UK Census Returns have much useful genealogical information and census data. The format has been mostly unchanged from the first detailed census in 1841 (apart from ages being rounded down in that census to nearest 5 years for over-15yr olds). Here’s the information a typical census record will include:
Location of Census Return – the civil parish, borough and ward are listed across the top of the census.
Street Name and House Number – if you check on local maps of the time you should be able to find the house in question. Very likely it is still standing and will give you an indication of the affluence of your ancestors.
Total Number of Houses and Male/Female Numbers on each census sheet – this information will have been useful for those collating the statistical information on populations and number of dwellings.
Double Vertical Line under ‘Houses’ column – this mark indicated the end of the listing information for each dwelling house. On the next line starts the information for the next house in the road.
Name – the census asks for NAME and Surname of each person. The household might give full name including a middle name, but often it will just give a name and surname. Be aware that the person might have listed a middle name as a first name if that was the name they are using.
Relation to Head of the Family – The husband will normally be listed as Head with family member terms listed i.e. wife, son, daughter. Other statuses listed might be visitor, servant, border, lodger etc.
Condition as to marriage i.e. marital status – this will often include abbreviated information such as M or Marr for married people. S, Un, Unm will denote single and unmarried people. Widow, W or widr will denote those whose spouses have died. Particularly good information if you need to find an ancestor’s marriage or death certificate. It helps narrow down the years.
Age last birthday and Male/Female– not always accurate as an individual might not want to give exact age. The age is inserted in either the male or female column to denote gender.
Rank, Profession, or occupation – just like today some family members might have over exaggerated their career title.
Where Born – vital information for genealogists. This information might denote a completely different area of the country to concentrate a search, or perhaps the person might have been born abroad. In victorian times there was much social upheaval and industrial changes and it wouldn’t have been unusual for a family to ‘up sticks’ for new employment opportunities.
Free Census Trial including extensive Family History Records
When starting a family history search it’s a good idea to start by trying out a free trial. That gives you a chance to look through extensive family history records and free census records for a 14 day period. The chances are you’ll enjoy the experience and continue with a subscription. In the free trial offered below by Find my Past you’ll be given the opportunity to check out all the main UK Censuses from 1841 to 1911, parish records, passenger lists, military records, historical newspaper archives. So to enjoy a free Census trial visit and view from billions of other family history records click on the following link: