Census details

The Census in England is taken every ten years and has been since 1801; the only exception being during World War II (1941). Most pre-1841 census were not kept and therefore only a few pre-1841 census returns have been found.

Census in the UK was conducted on the evenings of the following dates:

1801 - 10th March
1811 - 27th May
1821 - 28th May
1831 - 30th May
1841 - 6th June
1851 - 30th March
1861 - 7th April
1871 - 2nd April
1881 - 3rd April
1891 - 5th April
1901 - 31st March

1911 - 2nd April
1921 - 19th June (Expected to be released by TNA in January 2022)
1931 - 26th April (Destroyed during WW2)
1939 - 29th September (WW2 National Registration)
1951 - 8th April
1961 - 23rd April
1971 - 25th April
1981 - 5th April
1991 - 21st April
2001 - 29th April

The first British census to ask detailed questions about individuals, the 1841 census contains a bit less information than subsequent censuses. For each individual enumerated in 1841, you can find the full name, age (rounded down to the nearest 5 for everyone 15 or older), sex, occupation, and whether they were born in the same county in which they were enumerated.

The questions asked in the 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 census enumerations are generally the same and include the first, middle (usually just the initial), and last name of each individual; their relationship to the head of household; marital status; age at last birthday; sex; occupation; the county and parish of birth (if born in England or Wales), or the country if born elsewhere; and the full street address for each household. The birth information makes these censuses especially helpful for tracing ancestors born prior to the onset of civil registration in 1837.

Arrangement of the Census

Registration Districts

The census office organized the censuses by civil registration districts, which were subdivided into enumeration districts. The only exception is the 1841 census which was arranged by hundreds (administrative subdivisions of land). On the census films, each enumeration district includes a title page with the district number and a description of the area covered by the district.

Organizational Terminology

A number of organizational terms are given on a census page, here are a few. 

Census Series Codes

Here are the department series codes used by The National Archives to catalog the census. The letters 'HO' stand for 'Home Office' and the letters 'RG refer to the 'General Register Office.'  Both were government departments responsible for collecting census data at different times.  These numbers are written on the bottom or side of each census page.  They are used in census indexes, in combination with enumeration district numbers and page and folio numbers, to help you find a family or address in the census. 

As census records are not released to the public until 100 years have passed, the 1911 census is the most recent one available.

The Census Form

Census returns are arranged in columns. Column titles are:

Markings Used in the Census

Most of the census records have various marks and checks on them. Some were made by the government workers in the process of compiling statistics.

The census collector drew a single diagonal line ( / ) after the last name in a family or household and a double diagonal line ( // ) after the last name in a building or housing unit. So a female servant (F.S.) or male servant (M.S.), who was not a member of the family with which he/she was residing, might have a single line before their name and a double line after the name.

Information Given

Relationships Given in the Census

Relationships are important when putting a family unit together. The most oft-used relationships in the census were:

  • Head
  • Wife
  • Son
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Brother
  • Mother
  • Mother-in- Law
  • Grandson
  • Granddaughter
  • Nephew
  • Niece
  • Stepson
  • Stepdaughter
  • Servant
  • Visitor

Ages in the 1841 Census

The census takers were instructed to give the exact ages of children but to round the ages of those older than 15 down to a lower multiple of 5. For example, a 59-year-old person would be listed as 55. Not all census enumerators followed these instructions. Some recorded the exact age; some even rounded the age up to the nearest multiple of 5.

Variations in Information

Enumerators recorded information in varying ways. Here are some of them.