Census Abbreviations

1841 – Census abbreviations introduced to reduce the workload

Census abbreviations were used heavily in the 1841 census. This census asked for much more information about the inhabitants of Great Britain compared with the pre-1841 censuses of 1801 to 1831. The 1841 census now asked for personal information such as age, occupation and place of birth.

Census enumerators were employed to collect census information from householders, and then record this information in Census Enumeration Books (often referred to as C.E.B. by genealogists). Perhaps mindful of the extra workload, the General Register Office introduced certain approved census abbreviations for the census enumerators to use when completing their enumeration books. These abbreviations were then refined (or discarded) in later censuses. These approved abbreviations (or census ‘contractions’) were normally published in the census enumeration books to serve as a reminder to the enumerator as to what was permissable.

Abbreviations to describe occupations

The 1841 census was particularly comprehensive (see the table below). However, from the 1851 census onwards, these ‘occupation’ abbreviations were significantly reduced. By the 1871 census, the only permitted census abbreviation to describe an occupation was ‘Ag. Lab.’ (agricultural labourer). The 1881 census was more generalised, and allowed abbreviations such “ag. lab.”, provided they were “readily understood.” Both the 1891 census and 1901 census did not mention ‘occupation’ abbreviations at all.

For a full list of census abbreviations, including ‘occupation’ abbreviations, please refer to the lists below.

Census Abbreviations

Profession, Trade, Employment or of Independent means (from 1851: Rank, Profession or Occupation)
Details Census year
  • ‘Journeyman’ was a skilled tradesman but not yet a ‘master’ craftsman. Anyone not described as a journeyman or apprentice was considered a ‘master’.)
  • The 1841 Census contained the most extensive list of abbreviations to describe occupations. No other abbreviations were allowed, including ‘rank’ or terms such as ‘esq’ or ‘gentleman’.
  • By the 1881 census, the only work related abbreviation mentioned was that of ‘Ag. Lab.’ However, it also allowed for “Such contractions may be used as “ag. lab.” for agricultural labourer, but care must be taken that the contractions used are such as will be readily understood.”
Independent. This included anyone living on their means, and having no profession and included men, widows or single women Ind. 1841
Military – approved suffixes to ‘army’ or ‘navy’
Half-pay (as a suffix to army or navy) H.P. 1841
Pensioner (as a suffix to army or navy) P. 1841
Trade and clerical
Apprentice (prefixed by trade) Ap. 1841 – 1861.
Journeyman (prefixed by trade) J. 1841
Shopman (prefixed by trade) Sh. 1841
Manufacturer M. 1841
Maker (prefixed by trade e.g. ‘shoemaker’ = “shoe m.”) m. 1841
Clerk Cl. 1841 – 1861.
Servants and labourers
Agricultural labourer Ag. Lab. 1841 – 1881.
Railway labourer Rail. Lab. 1851.
Male servant M.S. 1841
Female servant F.S. 1841
Servant Serv. 1861.
Names and Places
Details Census year
These were general abbreviations which appeared in all the censuses – apart from a slight divergence in the 1851 census.
Ditto do. (or Do.) All census years.
Not known n.k. All census years.
To mark the end of the names of each family in a house (where there is more than one family). / 1841. 1861 – 1901
To mark the end of all occupants in a house. // 1841. 1861 – 1901
Under the last name of each family in a house (where there is more than one family). single line starting “on the left hand side of the third column”. 1851
Under the last occupant in a ‘distinct building’. single line “across the page as far as the fifth column”. 1851

Details Census year
*When two or more uninhabited or (new) buildings occurred together, the total number was to be inserted e.g. 3 U or 2 B.
*Uninhabited house 1 U 1841. 1861 – 1891.
*House building (i.e. being built) 1 B
Road Rd. 1861 – 1901.
Street St.
Place Pl.
Square Sq.
Terrace Ter.
Relation to Head of Family
Details Census year
All members of the family, including visitors and servants were to be included.
Head of family Head 1851 – 1901.
Daughter Daur.
Servant Serv.
Father-in-law F.-in-law 1901.
Mother-in-law M.-in-law
Details Census year
From a modern perspective, some of the abbreviations are perplexing. No sooner had ‘Unm.’ reduced to ‘S.’, than ‘W.’ expanded to ‘Wid.’! Questions relating to family relationship were not introduced until the 1851 census.
Married Mar. 1851 – 1881.
Married M. 1891. 1901.
Unmarried U. 1851.
Unmarried Un. 1861.
Unmarried Unm. 1871. 1881.
Unmarried S. 1891. 1901.
Widow W. 1851 – 1881.
Widow Wid. 1891. 1901.
Widower Widr. 1851 – 1901.

Details Census year
Exact ages were not asked until the 1851 census.
Month/s Mo. 1851 – 1901.
Where born: in same County (answer: Yes/No) or ‘Foreign Parts’*
Details Census year
These abbreviations were only used in the 1841 census. From the 1851 census onwards, the question changed to ‘where born’ and the actual town, county or parish had to be supplied. (If born abroad, the country had to be supplied.)
Yes Y. 1841.
No N. 1841.
Ireland I. 1841.
Scotland S. 1841.
Foreigners (‘subjects of a foreign state’). F. 1841.

1841 Enumerator’s Schedule. England and Wales. Extract from the Act 3 & 4 Victoria, cap. 99, intituled “An Act for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain.” Directions.
Census of Great Britain, 1851, Forms and instructions p. 36
Census of England and Wales, 1861. Enumeration Book. General Instruction to the Enumerator.
Census of England and Wales, 1871. Enumeration Book. General Instruction to the Enumerator
Census of England and Wales, 1881. Enumeration Book. General Instruction to the Enumerator
Census of England and Wales, 1881. Enumeration Book. General Instruction to the Enumerator
Census of England and Wales, 1901. Enumeration Book. General Directions to the Enumerator as to the use of this book.