England Census Records -- Finding and Using Indexes
Printed Surname Indexes
For many years prior to the Internet age, the family history societies throughout England created surname indexes to the census returns for their counties and regions of interest, and sold them to the public. Some indexes are to specific towns or parishes, but many indexes cover more than one parish or whole registration districts within a county. The indexes were often published as a series.
Some indexes are to surnames only, and some indexes include given names and more details. All indexes include the series code number, enumeration district number, and page or folio numbers needed to find individuals in the census returns.
For a list of printed surname indexes, look in:
- Gibson, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Hampson, Editors. Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians. 8th ed. Baltimore [Maryland] : Genealogical Pub. Co., c2001. (FHL book 942 D27gjh,)
Printed census surname indexes are found in archives and libraries throughout England. In addition, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a large collection of printed census indexes. They are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog. Use the:
- Place Search, for the name of a county or parish, and the subject of Census - Indexes
- Author Search for the name of the family history society that published the index
Online Surname Indexes
There are several different websites that provide access to indexed images of the censuses. The 1841 and subsequent censuses are all indexed and can be searched online by name, age, birthplace, or locality. The indexes can be problematic in that names can be spelled in various ways and indexers sometimes failed to interpret the spellings correctly. If you cannot find a person it means you need to vary your search parameters. The information in an index may be incorrect or incomplete. If you believe your ancestor was in a particular census area, search the census even if your ancestor is not in the index.
- Further information: England Census Records and Indexes Online
Tips for Using Surname Indexes
Indexes are created by people who vary in their skills at reading older records. Errors are possible in the indexing process. Here are some tips to help you find your ancestors in census surname indexes:
- Spelling variations--think of all the different ways your ancestor's name could have been mistranscribed. Could an S at the beginning of a name have been misread as an L or a T? Could Edmond have been misread as Edward, or Daniel as David?
- The census forms you see today are not the forms your ancestors filled out. They are transcriptions made in a census register by a clerk, who could have misread the information in the first place, which was then misindexed. Again, think of ways in which the information could have been mistranscribed.
- Your ancestor may not have been at his or her usual place of residence at the time of the census, or they may not have lived where you expect. Search indexes for neighboring areas or even neighboring counties.
- Your ancestor may not have been recorded under the surname you expect. Try looking for individuals with the correct first name, age, and birth place, but a different surname.
- If you cannot find your ancestor in an index, try looking for a relative who may have lived with or near your ancestor.
Before the ready availability of surname indexes, the only indexes to the census were street indexes for the larger towns, cities, and boroughs. If you had a street address for a family, obtained from a civil certificate for instance, you could use an index to the streets to find the family in the census. Street indexes were created by the staff of the National Archives of the UK (formerly the Public Record Office) and they are still available for use at the archives at Kew near London. The street indexes are still useful for finding who lived at a particular address in a particular census year.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has the census street indexes for 1841-1891 on microfiche and the fiche can be sent to a family history center near you for your use. Some larger centers may have the fiche in their permenant collections.
To see a list of towns, cities, and boroughs indexed by street for a given census year, and their fiche numbers, click on a census year below.