A census is a count and description of the population. The percentage of people listed varies with the purpose of the census and how careful the enumerator was. English national censuses started in 1841 and continue every 10 years.
Some of the censuses can be found on the Internet, such as:
The 1881 British census can be found free at :
The 1901 census can be found at:
The Family History Library has a complete set of the census records on film or fiche for 1841 through 1891. Follow these steps to find film numbers in the Family History Library Catalog.
- Go to www.familysearch.org.
- Click the Library tab.
- Click Family History Library Catalog.
- Click Place Search.
- Type the name of a parish or town, and click Search.
- Click the locality that you want.
- Scroll down the list of topics, and click Census.
- Click View Film Notes to see the film numbers for each census year.
A census may list only selected persons (such as males between the ages of 16 and 45) or list the whole population. Censuses provide information when other records are missing. The percentage of people listed varies with the purpose of the census and how careful the enumerator was. Various types of censuses taken by different English authorities for their own purposes, include:
- Population studies.
- Military readiness (militia lists and so on).
- Poor rates (taxes for relief of the poor).
- Poll books (lists of eligible voters).
- 1851 Census Places of Worship
For information about these censuses, see Military Records, Church Records and Taxation. Poll books are not discussed in this article. Poll books in the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - VOTING REGISTERS
National census records are especially valuable because they list nearly the entire population and are readily available at many repositories, including the Family History Library.
The English government has taken censuses every 10 years since 1801, except 1941. The first genealogically useful national census was taken in 1841.
The original census records for 1841 to 1891 are at The National Archives. The 1901 census is online. Census records less than 100 years old are confidential and cannot be searched by individuals. However, the 1911 census can be searched for you. The search will be done only if you provide the name and address (at the time the census was taken) of the individual you are seeking. You must also get the written consent of the person on the record or a direct descendant. The only information you will get from the census is the individual’s age and birthplace.
Earlier national censuses contain only statistical information, but some parishes compiled lists of names as they gathered the census information and some of these still survive. See the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CENSUS
A list of existing pre-1841 census records is in:
Chapman, Colin R. Pre-1841 Censuses & Population Listings in the British Isles. Fourth Edition. Dursley, England: Lochin Publishing, 1994. (FHL book 942 X27cc.)
Understanding the Census
The 1841 census was taken on 7 June. The censuses taken between 1851 through 1931 were conducted between 31 March and 8 April. Instructions to the census taker were to list only those persons who spent the night in each household when the census was taken. Those traveling, staying at boarding schools, or working away from home were listed where they spent the night. For example, night watchmen are often listed under their employer’s business address rather than with their families.
You will find the following information in the censuses:
1841: This census lists the members of every household with their name, sex, address, occupation, and whether or not they were born in the county. The census takers usually rounded the ages of those older than 15 down to a multiple of 5. For example, a 59-year-old would be listed as 55.
1851 and later: These censuses list the names, ages, occupations, relationships to the head of the household, and parish and county of birth (except foreign births, which may give country only) of each member of the household.
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.
Searching Census Records
When searching census records, remember:
- Accept the ages with caution.
- Given names may not be the same as the name recorded in church or vital records.
- Information may be incorrect.
- Names may be spelled as they sound.
- Place-names may be misspelled.
- If the family is not at the expected address, search the surrounding area.
- Parts of the 1841 and 1861 censuses are faint and sometimes unreadable.
When you find your family in one census, search the earlier or later census records to find additional family members and to verify details.
Individuals missing from a family may be listed elsewhere in the census.
Search available census indexes before using the actual census records.
If possible, find your ancestor’s address for the time period of the census you are searching. In big cities an address will help you find your ancestor in a census, especially when street indexes exist for the city.
The following sources may help you find an address:
- Old letters
- City, occupational, postal, or commercial directories
- Certificates of births, marriages, and deaths
- Church records of christenings, marriages, and burials
- Probate records
- Newspaper notices
- Court records
- Tax records
- Rate books
- Voting registers or poll books
Locating Census Records
In England original census records are located at the Public Record Office at Kew. Microfilm copies are located at the Family Records Centre and at county record offices and some local libraries.
Census Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of all national censuses from 1841 to 1891. The following work, commonly known as the Census Register, gives film numbers for each census year and is arranged by parish, town, village, or city:
Index of Place-names Showing the Library Microfilm Numbers for the 1841–1891 Census of England, Wales, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Family History Library, 1992. (FHL book 942 X2pi; fiche 6024509.)
To find the microfilm numbers look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog, under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CENSUS
Population tables and other census aids may help you pinpoint a location on the microfilm or solve unusual difficulties you may have in finding a locality on the census. See England Civil Registration.
Census indexes can reduce by hours the time you take to search the census. There are many published surname and street indexes for the census. Recent online indexes are helpful.
Surname Indexes. Before you search the actual census, look for a surname index. There are many surname indexes for English censuses. Many of these indexes have been produced by family history societies in England. Most of the published indexes are available at the Family History Library. The indexes vary in format and information given. Some list surnames only while others give complete transcriptions.
An index may cover part of a parish, a whole parish, a town, a subdistrict, or a district. Make sure it covers the area you need.
Many surname indexes do not give a Family History Library microfilm number. The indexes list a piece number, The National Archives reference number. You may determine which microfilm a piece number is on by using one of the following registers:
1841 Family History Library book Ref 942 X22p 1841; film 599273
1851 Family History Library book Ref 942 X23c
1861 Family History Library book Ref 942 X2pib 1861
1871 Family History Library book Ref 942 X23cp
1881 Family History Library book Ref 942 X22g; fiche 6035786
To find census surname indexes look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH or TOWN] -CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
You can also check the Census Surname Indexesregister at the Family History Library. This register is not available in Family History Centers.
For surname indexes that are not at the Family History Library, look in:
Gibson, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Hampson, Editors. Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians. Seventh Edition. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1998. (Family History Library book 942 D27gjh.)
1881 Census. A complete transcription and index to the 1881 census of England, Wales, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and the Royal Navy are online. The index and transcription were produced through a joint effort of the Federation of Family History Societies and the Genealogical Society of Utah.
A complete transcription and index are on microfiche.
A compact disc version of the 1881 British Census and National Index is available for purchase. It can be searched either nationwide or by region. The regions include the following counties:
'East Anglia'-Bedford, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, Norfolk, Northampton, Rutland, and Suffolk
Greater London-London, Middlesex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Oxford, Surrey, Buckingham, Essex, Hertford, Sussex, and Kent
Midlands-Cheshire, Hereford, Shropshire, Stafford, Worcester, Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, and Warwick
North Central-Lancashire and York
Northern Borders and Miscellany-Channel Islands, Cumberland, Durham, Isle of Man, Northumberland, Royal Navy, Westmorland, and Miscellaneous
Southwestern-Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucester, Somerset, and Wiltshire
Wales and Monmouth
The microfiche version is available for use at the Family History Library, Family History Centers, and other record repositories (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline). The microfiche can be searched either nationwide or by county.
Within the nationwide index are two indexes:
- Surname Index (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- Birthplace Index (alphabetical by birthplace, then surname)
Within each of the county indexes are seven sections:
- Surname Index (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- Birthplace Index (alphabetical by surname, then birthplace)
- Census Place Index (alphabetical by surname, then census place)
- Census Record-as-Enumerated
- Miscellaneous Notes (alphabetical by surname, then given name)
- List of Vessels/Ships (alphabetical by ship’s name)
- List of Institutions (alphabetical by institution’s name)
See 1881 British Census Indexes(34933) for additional information.
To locate the microfiche numbers for the 1881 census indexes, look in the Family History Library Catalog under:
[COUNTRY] - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
[COUNTRY], [COUNTY] - CENSUS - 1881 - INDEXES
1851 Census. The 1851 census for the counties of Devon, Norfolk, and Warwick is completely transcribed and indexed. This index is available on microfiche and on compact disc. The microfiche version is available through the Family History Library, Family History Centers, and other record repositories (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline). The compact disc version, 1851 British Census, is available for purchase.
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.
Street Indexes. If you know the address where your ancestor may have lived, a street index can help you quickly find your ancestor in the census. Street indexes are available for major cities in England for each census year. Street indexes are available at the Family History Library in both book and microform. You can determine if a street index is available by looking in:
Register of Towns Indexed by Streets. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Family History Library, 1999. (FHL book 942 X22r; fiche 6026692, on two fiche.)
If the above register does not list the town or district you need for a particular year, look for a street index in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [CITY, PARISH, or DISTRICT] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
You may also write to the Family Records Centreand ask if a street index is available in their office.