Scotland 1841-1891 Censuses (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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Collection Time Period

The British government has taken censuses every 10 years since 1801 except for 1941. This guide covers censuses from 1841 through 1891.

Record History

The Registrar General created the national censuses of the British population. However, the actual gathering of information was usually done by the Home Office of each county with assistance from the county sheriff. The census was completed in one day, and the census books were then sent to the Registrar General’s office in London. Almost all of the residents of Scotland are included in the census.

Why This Record Was Created

The Registrar General created censuses for several reasons, including population studies, accessing military readiness, compiling lists of eligible voters, and tracking relief to the poor.

Record Reliability

The information gathered by the census taker is only as reliable as the person who provided the information. While some information may not be completely accurate, it can still provide important clues in locating an ancestor.

Record Description

Census schedules consist of large sheets with preprinted rows and columns. The schedules are arranged by county and then divided by civil parish. Some are further subdivided into smaller enumeration districts, each district being an area that could be enumerated in a day. The only exception to this is the 1841 census, which was arranged by “hundreds” (administrative subdivisions of land). The information was recorded in columns on two pages that face each other. Information is recorded in entries that cover two facing pages. For reference purposes, the National Archives assigned a piece number to each enumeration district and stamped a folio number in the upper right corner of each right-side page.

The original schedules are well preserved and housed at the Public Records Office in Kew. Microfilm copies are located at the Family History Library, at the Family Records Centre in England, and at county record offices and some libraries. Parts of the 1841 and 1861 censuses are faint and sometimes unreadable. This has occurred through damage or neglect in storing the records. An attempt is now being made to preserve the records by transcribing and publishing them. Some of these preservation efforts are being published in book form, while others are being posted on the Internet.


Record Content

The 1841 census lists the following:
• Names of each household member
• Sex
• Address
• Occupation
• Whether the individual was born in the county
• Age (The census taker usually rounded the ages of those older than 15 down to a multiple of 5.)
Beginning with the 1851 census, the information includes the following:
• Names
• Ages
• Parishes and counties of birth
• Occupations
• Relationships to the head of the household for each person
• Sometimes the birth country for people born outside of England

How to Use the Record

Census records are a good source to use as you search for your relatives. Use the ages to approximate birth dates. Use the places listed to search for births or baptisms in the Old Parish Registers (OPR).

Enumerators went door to door collecting the data in census books. The census takers listed only those who spent the night in each household, so individuals who were traveling or at school were listed where they spent the night.

It is important to know that for the 1841 census, enumerators were instructed to round down the ages of persons 15 years and over to the nearest five years. For example, someone who is 32 would be listed as 30; someone who is 49 would be listed as 45. As a result, ages recorded could be very different from the actual age. You will find instances where enumerators did not adhere to this instruction on age and inserted the given age.

To find an individual in a census, you must know the person’s name and the time period when he or she lived. If there is no index available, you need to know where the person lived. Check for an index that will identify where the family is located in the census. If no index exists, search the film entry by entry to locate the family.

If the family is not at the expected address, search the surrounding area. Make sure you are searching in the right parish.

You may have to read around marks made by the clerks who compiled the census data. These marks sometimes obscure the information. Other things to consider when finding and using census information are the following:
• Accept the ages with caution. A person may not know their correct age or may not be honest about it.
• Given names may not be the same as a name recorded in church or vital records.
• The information may be incorrect.
• Names may be spelled phonetically (or as they sounded to the census taker).
• Place-names may be misspelled.
• Individuals missing from a family may be listed elsewhere in the census.
• Married and widowed women sometimes used their maiden names.
• Children might have taken the name of the stepfather if the mother remarried.
• The family name may have been altered after emigration from Scotland.
These are additional helpful search strategies:
• All members of a family living in the same household will be listed together. When you find your family in one census, search earlier or later censuses to find additional family members and to verify details.
• Look for people who have the same surname as your ancestor and who live in the same vicinity; they may be related.
• Look for the families of children in later census years.
• Check each census for the period in which a person lived to verify the information in any particular census year and to find additional information.

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Related Wiki Articles

Scotland Census

Sources of This Collection

“Scotland Census 1841-1891” database, FamilySearch; from the Public Record Office at Kew, London (England). “Census Records.” Public Record Office at Kew, London (England). FHL microfilm, 1,651 reels. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sample Citation

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A full bibliographic record is available in the Family History Library Catalog.

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