Census Guide for England & Wales

 

 


Using Census Documents – search tips and notes

 

In short:

 

 

Be familiar with the particulars of each census you search
- see Census Quick Reference below

Try a variety of search strategies
- see Sleuthing Tips below

Remain ever sceptical – many errors can and do exist, both in originals (people lied, mistakes were made) and in transcripts (original records can be poor and hard to read) as well as in information from other family members
- see General Advice below

Always compare transcriptions with original entries
- see Viewing Originals below

Corroborate information from additional sources
- see Validating Information below

 

NB: Terms and abbreviations used in this document are decoded at the end of the document

 

 

General Advice

 

Information given to enumerators is unchecked and there are many socio-economic reasons for people to lie.  Sometimes correct information may not be known or mistakes can be innocently made, particularly for age and birthplace - and in 1841 ages for adults were rounded to the nearest 5 years.  Consider also whether or not information gleaned from other family members is correct, especially where names are concerned.  Best advice is to keep an open mind if you don’t find an exact match, try thinking laterally and look for other clues to support suspected matches.  See Sleuthing Tips and  Validating Information below.

 

Remember that original record books themselves are transcripts made by the enumerator at the time of the census, and indexes or transcriptions may be the product of three or four further transcripts:  remember how the game of  ‘Chinese whispers’ works!

 

Some census records are simply missing, like the 1841 records for London’s Kensington to Paddington districts, and some 3% of the 1861 census, thought to be missing or damaged (see the FRC newsletter for more information on efforts to identify missing sections).

 

Finally - always keep a record of where, what and when you have searched for whom, especially if unsuccessfully, to avoid duplication at a later date, and note down piece numbers and references on printouts or in a separate list, as they don't always contain these.

 

 

Census Quick Reference

 

Enumerator’s Marks:

\

= the last person in each household within the same building

\\

= the last person in each building

Common Census Abbreviations

Status:

Occupation:

M  or Mar 

= Married

Ag lab

= Agricultural laborer

Unm

= Unmarried

Ap

= Apprentice

W

= Widow (both M or F)

Cl

= Clerk

 

Dom

= Domestic servant

Place of birth  (where born abroad)

Fs/Ms

= Female/Male servant

BS 

= British Subject

J

= Journeyman

 

 

1901 CENSUS - Census night: 31st March, ref:  RG13

Data collected:

 

Schedule

first column, not the house number, but number of household in folio

Place

no. + street address

Houses

whether inhabited or empty or otherwise used

Rooms

inhabited if less than 5

Name

as stated, often with middle name or initials

Relationship

to head of household

Condition

Unmarried or Married

Age/Sex

age as stated, M or F

Occupation

as stated

Emp. Status

Employer, worker or ‘own account’

Home workers

if working at home

Where born

as stated – usually district and county

Disability

whether blind; deaf/dumb; imbecile/idiot; lunatic

 

+In Scotland only - number of rooms with more than 1 window and if Gaelic or Gaelic and English language spoken

 

+In Wales only - whether Welsh, English or both spoken

 

+In Ireland only - religious denomination; literacy level (can read; read and write; cannot read); able to speak or write 'Irish'

 

 

1891 CENSUS - Census night: 5th  April, ref:  RG12

 

Data collected:

 

Schedule

first column = not house no., but no. of household in folio

Place

no. + street address

Houses

whether inhabited or empty

Rooms

inhabited if less than 5

Name

as stated, often with middle name or initials

Relationship

to head of household

Condition

Unmarried or Married

Age/Sex

age as stated, M or F

Occupation

as stated

Emp. Status

Employer, employed or neither – latter could mean unemployed, self employed or of  independent means

Where born

as stated – usually district and county

Disability

whether blind; deaf/dumb; imbecile/idiot; lunatic

 

+In Scotland only - number of rooms with more than 1 window and if Gaelic or Gaelic and English language spoken

 

+In Wales only - whether Welsh, English or both spoken

 

1881 CENSUS - Census night: 3rd April, ref:  RG11

 

Data collected:

 

Schedule

first column = not house no., but no. of household in folio

Place

no. + street address

Houses

whether inhabited or empty

Name

as stated, often with middle name or initials

Relationship

to head of household

Condition

Unmarried or Married

Age/Sex

age as stated, M or F

Occupation

as stated

Where born

as stated – usually district and county

Disability

whether blind; deaf/dumb; imbecile/idiot; lunatic

 

+In Scotland only - number of rooms with more than 1 window

 

 

1871 CENSUS - Census night: 2nd April, ref:  RG10

 

1861 CENSUS - Census night: 7th  April, ref:  RG09

 

1851 CENSUS - Census night: 30th March, ref:  HO107

 

Data collected:

 

Schedule

first column = not house no., but no. of household in folio

Place

no. + street address

Name

as stated

Relationship

to head of household

Condition

Unmarried or Married or Widow

Age/Sex

age as stated, M or F

Occupation

as stated – option  ‘of independent means’ removed

Where born

as stated

Disability

whether blind or deaf and dumb

 

+In Scotland only - (1861 & 1871) number of rooms with more than 1 window

 

 

1841 CENSUS - Census night: 6th April, ref:  HO107

 

Data collected:

 

Place

no full addresses, just street, village or hamlet name

Houses

whether inhabited or empty

Name

only one forename recorded

Age/sex

mostly rounded down to nearest 5 years, for anyone over 15

Occupation

often nothing recorded at all, but included option ‘of independent means’

Where born

‘in same county as census’;   Y = yes or N = no

‘NK’ = Not known; S = Scotland; I = Ireland; F = Foreign parts

 

 

NB: no relationships are recorded on 1841 census, so beware confusing spouses and siblings,
and where same age recorded, don't assume twins as it could be just due to rounding

 

 

Earlier Census

 

Although largely commissioned for statistical data to inform government of the day, and so pretty useless for family research, oddments of data from earlier census returns can be useful since some zealous enumerators recorded much more than was required.  Consult the relevant county page in GENUKI, or censusfinder.com or consult the Gibson guide 'Local Census Listings' (available at many local libraries) to see if they exist for your search area.

 

 

Viewing Originals

 

Wherever possible  always view (and preferably obtain a copy of) the original image of any census entry that you find in an index, in order to claim the family as yours.  The cynical may see this as an unnecessary expense and/or waste of time, but the experienced will know how invaluable this can be, since few indexes give you the entire picture, or even the most accurate transcription, and you may well find other things of interest as some enumerators were more zealous than others.  Such 'nuggets' could include descriptions of disabilities, lost limbs etc. or the number of employees in a family business.

 

Find original images in person at:

·         the Family Records Centre in London*

·         the TNA (National Archives) at Kew*

·         the relevant County Record Office and other Local Archives around the country

·         LDS Family History Centres (you may need to order these in advance - phone first)

·         the National Library of Wales (for all Welsh records)


and via the Internet on many commercial genealogy websites (see the
Online Data Provider Comparison Chart') and for Scottish returns at the Scotland's People website. 

 

*Each census can be searched online for free by visitors to the FRC and TNA, but charges will still apply for printouts and photocopies.

 

 

Validating Information

 

So - you have found your ancestor listed in a census - how can you be sure it is the right person or family?  The generally accepted view is that 3 separate sources are needed to be sure.  However, this is not always easy or even possible, so best advice in this case is to look for other clues in as many sources as possible, keeping an open mind to the possibility that they may not be who you think they are.

 

Look for corroborating clues such as:

 

·         BMD certificates:- parent names; occupation; address and less reliably, age (see above)

·         Parish records:- parent names and occasionally addresses and age at baptism

·         Wills:- references to names and places

·         Directories:- confirmation of address and/or occupation

·         Service records:- soldiers documents may give next of kin

 

 

 

Sleuthing Tips

 

Can't find your ancestor in in a census index?  Although encouraged to enter as much information as possible when searching digital indexes, less is often more rewarding.  For example, avoid using gender in your search terms as this is famously incorrect in many records. 

 

Most likely, the name may have been misspelled by the enumerator, or mis-transcribed into the index.  Similarly, the name you are searching for may not be the name they were known by.  Try searching for:-

 

·         a known spouse or child, then view the entire household or the head of household

·         the last name together with vaguely similar first names, e.g. Kate for Catherine; Robert for Roland etc. and again use clues from other family members in the household to make the connection

·         a middle name as the first name - where names were handed down to each generation, a middle name was sometimes used to differentiate, for example from George the grandfather; George the father and George the son!

·         a pet name or nick name, e.g. 'Davey' or 'Davy' for David or 'Missy' for the youngest or only girl

·         a 'soundex' version of names, e.g. Emmins or Emmines for Emmens

·         the first name and view all occurrences, in the hope of finding a similar last name.  Consider here the possible errors from transcribers misreading capital letters and confusing, for example: T with F; L with S; I with J; R with B; H with A
 

 

Another idea, if this still turns up nothing then you may be lucky enough, if you know where your ancestor was born, to find him listed on a 'strays' index.  See the FFHS website for more information on this.

 

Not at home?  Census data is a snapshot of each household on a particular night.  If you are unlucky, your ancestor may have been:

 

·         visiting relatives - if searching manually, widen your search to other known family households

·         institutionalised - consider asylum; hospital; work house; prison; military service; boarding school;

·         travelling on business or pleasure  - try passenger lists; hotels across UK borders

 

 

Further research: whilst in census search mode, either at a repository or online, its worth continuing back through earlier census records for any ancestor found over the age of 10 on the searched census.  Also consider broader searches in the same census for other family members, or other possible members.  Collect and save details of possible family candidates to be linked in later.

 

Don't overlook the neighbours! Occupations, size of households, nationalities and ethnic clues from places of birth etc. of those living alongside your ancestors may give you vital clues to how they lived their lives and help you to put 'flesh on the bones' genealogically

 

 

Decoding terms and abbreviations used in this document:

 

BMD

Birth, Marriage, Death

LDS

Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)

Emp.

Employer

No. /no.

Number

Enumerator

Census recorder

Soundex

Phonetic version

FRC

Family Records Centre

TNA

The National Archives