England Census: Further Information and Description
There is a lot to learn about the census records. The following web sites provide more details:
- Census Returns leaflet number 99 produced by The National Archives in England
- Census Records: Search Census Records produced by The National Archives in England.
- UK Census Online
- 1 The Census Taker
- 2 Dates the Censuses Were Taken
- 3 Arrangement of the Census
- 4 Information Given
- 5 Missing Pieces
The Census Taker
The man who collected the census details was called an 'enumerator'. He was assigned to visit a specific area or number of streets with the purpose of leaving a form that was to be filled out on the night of the census. Information about everyone in the house on that night – family, relatives, boarders and visitors – were to be listed. The enumerator went back in the next few days and gathered the forms. An article written by Guy Etchells explains in detail the instructions given to enumerators.
Dates the Censuses Were Taken
Since one of the main goals was to avoid double counting people, the enumeration districts were small enough for an enumerator to complete his work in one day. Censuses were taken on specific dates. The following list gives the dates for each of the available census years:
For information regarding the 1931 and 1941 censuses see England Census Substitutes
Arrangement of the Census
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.
A number of organizational terms are given on a census page. Here are a few.
- Hundred (in the 1841 census)
- Enumeration districts
- Civil parish
- Ecclesiastical parish
- Page and folio numbers
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.
- 1841 census: HO 107
- 1851 census: HO 107
- 1861 census (RG 9)
- 1871 census (RG 10)
- 1881 census (RG 11)
- 1891 census (RG 12)
- 1901 census (RG 13)
- 1911 census (RG 14)
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:
- Place or street address
- Name of each person living in the abode on the night of the census
- Relationship to the head of the household
- Age and sex, arranged by males and females
- Profession, trade or employment
- Where born
- For examples of each census year's heading format in easy-to-read and enlargeable PDF form see:
- Worksheets. A generic census worksheet can be used to record information found in all census records. Or, forms for specific census years are available at Ancestry.com:
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.
Relationships Given in the Census
Relationships are important when putting a family unit together. The most oft-used relationships in the census were:
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.
- Listing the given name first followed by the surname.
- Listing the surname first followed by the first name.
- Abbreviating the last name or place name as 'do.' This abbreviation is short for 'ditto' and means "the same as the above."
- Abbreviating the relationship to the head of the household, such as Daur for daughter.
- Abbreviating the name of county, such as Wilts for Wiltshire.
- Abbreviating the condition, such as M (married), U or Un (unmarried), W (widow or widower).
- Abbreviating the names of occupations, such as 'FWK' for frame work knitter, 'F.S.' for female servant, and 'Ag lab' for agricultural labourer.
Learn more about English censuses by taking the FamilySearch online lesson about Census Records, and reading A copy of the Act for Taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain [w10 August 1840.
Various parts of the England, Wales, and Scotland census returns from 1841 to 1911 are incomplete and have pieces missing. Find My Past has has identified the known gaps by census year, nation, county, and village or parish in Census for England, Wales and Scotland: missing pieces