Family Group of 6 C1900

UK Census

The census records are a great starting point for your research. They allow you to discover where and how your ancestors lived at various points in time, what profession they worked in and how many people lived with them at that time. Census records give you a great snapshot of your family every ten years.

TheGenealogist offers access to a full collection of transcripts from 1841 to 1911 for England and Wales and 1841 to 1901 for Scotland. Search by name, address, age, occupation our use our ‘Family Forename Search’ to find your matches without entering a surname. You can view original images and printable transcripts of the entire household or just family members.

What is the Census?

The census is a statistical exercise undertaken to inform the government, counting and recording facts about the population. You could say that the first large scale census taken in modern history was Domesday and there have been others over the years, such as Muster rolls, taken to see what able-bodied men and weapons were available for war.

A census has been carried out every decade since 1841 (with less comprehensive census taking starting in 1801). The only exception when a census was not taken was in 1941 during the Second World War. Census records were never intended for family historians to use, but as a an exercise in finding out statistics about the population, to enable the government to make accurate and informed decisions on a wide variety of social topics including housing, transport and food, and to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the economy of the country at that point in time. However, there value nowadays as a snapshot in time is now widely recognised as immense for family historians.

What can we find out?

From 1801-1831, purely statistical data was collected with no usable genealogical material, however the 1841 census introduced records with some personal information for the first time. The usefulness of the 1841 census is limited to family historians because it unfortunately didn't accurately record people's ages, or where they were born, only noting if they were born in the same county or not.

Unfortunately not always very accurate, unless your ancestors lived in a named house or farm. You may have to settle for simply knowing the name of the road or the village.
The surname with at least one forename, although it could turn out to be a pet name, and sometimes you find second forenames or initials.
How the individual is related to the head of the household. Information providing the structure of the family, especially where married children or relations are included in the household.
Whether married, widowed or single. Again useful in establishing family structure.
From 1851 onwards, these are usually as accurate as your ancestors were able or prepared to supply. In the 1841 census they are usually rounded to the nearest 5 years for adults.
The rank, profession or occupation can be useful in helping to establish that you have found the correct person, especially if they share a relatively common name.
Where born
Another field that is useful in helping you identify individuals, although for a number of reasons it frequently contains mistakes.

In addition to the above, the 1911 Census was the first to include the number of years a couple had been married and how many children had been born to that marriage.

Search Tips

  • The census gives us a snapshot of an exact moment in time. It was designed to record all members of a household resident on census night and this would include any travellers or visitors.
  • Be aware of enumerator errors, misspellings of surnames, first names etc can throw a researcher off the scent.
  • The phonetic search on TheGenealogist assists with spelling errors in census recording. If a name sounds the same it will be picked up when searching on TheGenealogist, although it may be spelt differently.
  • In 1851, ships in port or in British waters were treated like institutions and enumerated separately. Crews of ships at sea or in foreign ports were not counted in 1841 and 1851. Starting in 1861, special shipping schedules were used to account for all British vessels anywhere at sea.
  • The census is also a great way of discovering other family members. TheGenealogist offers a Family Forename Search which allows you to search by family members you know exist, even without a surname.
  • The Street Search on TheGenealogist also allows you to view the inhabitants of a particular street at census time. Be aware many of our ancestors lived close to each other so it’s a great way of discovering other extended family members.
  • Using the census records, now you have their address, you can discover more about them. Looking at local parish records, look for churches and cemeteries, there may be records of your ancestors.

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