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What is the Census?
A census is a survey of population taken on a particular date. The information gathered on individuals is extracted and the results analysed to produce published tables of data. This data provides a picture of the population, its size, composition and how it lives and is used as a planning tool by government, business and other organisations. In Great Britain a census has been taken every decade since 1801, with the exception of 1941 when war intervened. The returns for 1801 to 1831 were not much more than a count of the numbers of people in each parish, but from 1841 names of individuals were recorded, together with information about them.
How was the census taken?
For each census, enumerators were employed to distribute the forms to every household in their designated area. The head of the household was legally obliged to provide information on each individual staying in the house on that night. This meant everyone present, including servants, lodgers and visitors, as well as members of the family. A Sunday was always chosen for taking a census as it was assumed that most people would be at home. The enumerator collected the forms the morning after census night, making a note of all uninhabited properties, and was responsible for transferring all this information into an "enumerator's book".
The books were checked by a supervisor and sent to the main census office in London. Here, information was extracted from the books to compile the census statistics. As each piece of information was extracted, a line was drawn through the entry in the enumerator's book to show that it had been noted hence the marks on the entries that today can make them difficult to read.
What census records are there, and where can I find them?
Two very different types of records are available as a result of census surveys:
- Statistical tables are compiled from the information in the enumerators' books, showing a range of information on the size, age distribution, geographical location, migration, and occupations of the population.
These tables give detailed figures for a range of administrative and geographical areas down to parish level, but no named individuals. The tables are published in a series of volumes or booklets as soon as they have been prepared after each census. This process takes several years to complete. Most large public libraries have copies of the census statistical volumes for their own area. Copies can also often be found in record offices, including the Glamorgan Record Office.
- Copies of the census enumerators' books, containing the detailed information given by individuals, are made available to the public after 100 years. All information given by individuals is confidential and allowing 100 years to elapse before the records are made public ensures confidentiality. The latest census returns at present available are, therefore, those for 1901. The Public Record Office holds the original enumerators' books, but in order to preserve the originals and improve access, microfilm or microfiche copies of the books are available. These copies can be consulted at the Family Records Centre in London, for the whole of England and Wales. Local record offices and public libraries usually have copies for their own areas.
What information can be found in the census enumerators' books?
The census of 1841 includes basic information on individuals such as their name, address, age and occupation. Ages for adults over 15 were rounded down. A place of birth was not given, only a tick or cross to indicate whether a person was born in the county. From 1851 far more information was included. Under each household the individuals were named with their exact age, marital status, relationship to head of household, occupation, place of birth and a record of any medical disability. The 1891 census also allowed more space for recording occupation and, in Wales, a column indicating whether they spoke English or Welsh or both languages. All the returns in the enumerators' books are arranged in a geographical order with no index by personal or place name, though these have sometimes been prepared by local societies and are available at local record offices and libraries.
Although small institutions appeared as households amongst the normal returns, provision was also made to record individuals living outside a "normal household". This included the inmates of institutions, the crews of vessels afloat and the armed forces. An institution was defined as every gaol, prison, penitentiary, house of correction, hulk or prison ship, workhouse, almshouse, hospital, infirmary, asylum, madhouse, public school, endowed school, college, barrack or other public or charitable institution.
The 1841 census act made the master or keeper of a public or charitable institution act as the enumerator for the inmates. They had special institutional enumerator books which they filled in and passed directly to the Census Office in London. The quality of information in the returns varies according to the thoroughness of the enumerator.
The enumeration of the Army
Small barracks were treated as private households and enumerated in the normal returns but large barracks were returned in institutional books. Members of the British Army stationed abroad were never fully enumerated. Instead the military authorities provided the Census Office with information as to the numbers of officers, other ranks, wives and children either by place or by regiment.
Members of the Royal Navy ashore in England and Wales on census night were always recorded in the usual household or institutional returns. In 1851 special schedules appear to have been issued to the commanding officers of vessels in British ports but unfortunately no returns appear to have survived. From 1861 onwards the commanding officers of naval vessels, both in home waters and abroad, were given special schedules in which to record the names and details of their officers and crew. Passengers as well as servicemen were included.
The enumeration of the merchant marine and fishing vessels
The enumeration of the merchant marine in the nineteenth century was not taken on one day but spread over a period of time. This period varied from census to census and not all merchant vessels were treated the same. The complex instructions often confused the officers responsible for the completion of the returns and other returns were lost.
No attempt was made to enumerate vessels on canals and inland navigable waters in 1841 and 1851. Enumerators were asked to calculate the numbers of people on board and insert this figure in one of their preliminary tables and the canal companies were asked to provide an estimate of the number of such people. In 1861 it was up to the registrar to find out where vessels were located in his district and to employ a "trustworthy" person to gather the information on census morning. From 1871 it became the responsibility of the enumerator to supply each vessel with a schedule and to collect it on completion.
Itinerants and travellers
In the nineteenth century many people moved about the country looking for work according to the seasons and social calendar. However, for the census of 1841 and earlier, no special arrangements were made to include the itinerant population. In 1851 those sleeping in barns, sheds, tents and in the open air were entered as numbers in the summary tables. Those travelling by railway or coach were included in returns at the house or hotel at which they stopped or took up their residence on the morning after census night. In 1861 those individuals in barns, sheds, tents and in the open air were listed at the end of the household schedules under the title "List of persons not in houses". From 1871 onwards information on such individuals appeared in the returns and can be found in their proper place in the roads, lanes and outhouses in which they slept.
The census was based upon the principal that the householder should record the people who slept in their house on census night. Before and including 1841, no special arrangements were made for those individuals away from home on nightshifts. The enumerators were asked to estimate the number of people down mines and pits and enter this in their summary table. From 1851 onwards nightworkers were enumerated in their homes if they returned there next day.
|1801: 10 March||1811: 27 May||1821: 28 May||1831: 29 May|
|1841: 7 June||1851: 31 March||1861: 8 April||1871: 3 April|
|1881: 4 April||1891: 6 April||1901: 1 April|
Please note that the Glamorgan Record Office will have no facilities for you to access the census on the Internet.
- Amanda Bevan (ed), Tracing your Ancestors in the Public Record Office (Public Record Office, 1999)
- Jeremy Gibson and Elizabeth Hampson, Census Returns, 1841-1891 in Microform. A Directory to Local Holdings in Great Britain (Federation of Family History Societies, 1997)
- Edward Higgs, Making Sense of the Census (Public Record Office Handbook No. 23, 1989)
- Susan Lumas, Making Use of the Census' (Public Record Office Readers' Guide no. 1, 1997)
- Muriel Nissel, People Count. A History of the General Register Office (HMSO, 1987 Explore your Family's Past (Reader's Digest, 2000)
- Using Census Returns' (Public Record Office Pocket Guide to Family History, 2000)
What census material do we hold?
We hold a complete series of census returns on fiche and film for the county of Glamorgan 1841-1901. These can be consulted in the Copy Searchroom.
To assist you in your search we hold some personal name indexes and street indexes for Glamorgan. These can be summarised as follows:
Personal Name Indexes
The 1881 census for the whole of England & Wales is available on microfiche. We hold the personal name index and transcript for each individual county as well as the National Surname Index.
|County of Glamorgan||Fiche||Fiche||Fiche||Fiche|
|Forest, Taff & Cynon||File||File||File||File|
|St. Mary Church||File||File||File||File|
| Vale of Glamorgan
KEY: Fiche: index available on microfiche - File: index available in A4 file format.
Some street indexes also include an index to public houses, inns, hotels and institutions. All the street indexes are in A4 files in paper format. They give the reference to enable you to find the exact location of the street.
How do I find my place on the census fiche?
The indexes will have given you a piece number, a fiche number and a folio number.
The piece number can be found at the side or foot of each page of the returns and begins HO/ or RG/. This piece number also appears at the top of each fiche followed by the fiche number.
The fiche number can be either 1+, 2+, 3+ etc., the + following the number indicates there is another fiche to follow, the indicates the final fiche in the series. The folio number is the dark, black, stamped number which can be found in the top right hand corner of every other page of the returns. Pages without folio numbers take the number from the previous page.
Some indexes also give a page number. This can be found in the top right hand or left hand corner of every page.
Can I get copies of the census?
YES. Printouts of the census can be made at 40p a page.
You will need to fill in a photocopy order form. These forms are available in the Copy Searchroom. The details required are:
Piece Number, Fiche Number, Folio Number and Page Number.
It is also helpful to include the census year and the name of the family or the address you want copied.
Printouts will be processed as soon as possible but there may be a delay during busy times.
Out of county census returns
We hold an incomplete set of microfiche for the county of Monmouthshire 1841-1901. A more detailed parish list is available in the Copy Searchroom.
Street indexes available include:
- Abergavenny: 1851
- Bedwellty: 1891, 1901
- Newport: 1851, 1871, 1891, 1901
- Pontypool: 1891
There is a personal name index to the 1861 census for Monmouthshire divided into census districts. Also a partial surname index to the 1851 and 1871 Monmouthshire censuses.
We hold the census fiche and street index for:
- Crickhowell: 1891
We hold the census fiche and street index for:
- Llanelli: 1891
© Glamorgan Record Office, Cardiff, Wales.
- This page was last modified on 20 February 2009, at 13:21.
- This page has been accessed 1,763 times.
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