The census returns 1841 - 1901

A census was taken every 10 years from 1810 but, the census taken between 1810 and 1831 were of little use to genealogists since they recorded only the numbers in each household. From 1841 the census is of use. The census was taken as of midnight on Sunday/Monday
1841 Sun/Mon. 6/7th June 1841
1851 Sun/Mon. 30/31st March 1851
1861 Sun/Mon. 7/8th April 1861
1871 Sun/Mon. 2/3rd April 1871
1881 Sun/Mon. 3/4th April 1881
1891 Sun/Mon. 5/6th April 1891
1901 Sun/Mon. 31st March / 1st April 1901
1911 Sun/Mon 2/3rd April 1911; To be made available online 3 Jan 2012 (some areas are available now)
Click the year for a pdf copy of the form used


The following details were recorded in the census of 1841:

  1. Address (vague)
  2. Names
  3. Age (a) 15 and under exact age (b) over 15 recorded to the lowest 5 years e.g. someone age 56, 57, 58 or 59 would be recorded as 55.
  4. Occupation of individuals. Often blank for women and children.
  5. Where born - in this county - recorded as Yes/Y and if born in Scotland, Ireland or Foreign parts
Occasionally you will find additional data such as exact ages being recorded (see the entry for Charles Dickens at the left) or a comment being made by the enumerator.

    Example: Quality Row Newcastle on Tyne All Saints Parish (1841)

    of each person who abode therein
    the preceding night
    AGE and SEX
    or of
    Where born
    Uninhabited or building
    Whether born in same county
    Whether Born in Scotland, Ireland. or Foreign Parts
    Quality Row  
    Ann Gullon  
        John do
        Ann do  
        Robert do
        Thomas do
        Charles do
    2 mths
    In this example, taken from the Newcastle Upon Tyne census, the age of Ann Gullon is given as 30 - this is incorrect since she was 35 years old at the time of the census (she was baptised on 30 Nov 1805). The census does not show her maritable condition or the relationship to children. Her husband is not shown since he was away on board ship at the time. The occupation column has been left blank and no house number is shown.

Format of the 1851 - 1891 census

  1. Road, street, number or name of house
  2. Whether the house is inhabited or not
  3. Name and surname of each person
  4. Relationship to head of house
  5. Married/Unmarried
  6. Age last birthday
  7. Profession
  8. Whether employed or not
  9. Place of birth
  10. Whether blind/insane/feeble minded

The 1901 census in addition asked details about whether the house was being built and expanded the employment section to ask if the individual was working at home

Beware of (a) lies about age (b) a 2nd wife may not be mother of children listed as son/daughter

    Example: No 71 42 Albion Row All Saints Byker Newcastle on Tyne (1851)

    Relation to head of household Married/Unmarried
    Place of birth
    Male Female
    Robert Gullon head
    Nthmb, Balast Hills
    Shipwright's wife

    In this example, taken from the 1851 census for Newcastle Upon Tyne, the same family is shown. This time exact ages are shown and are given correctly.

    In the 1881 Census Ann Gullon is recorded as a widow, living at 24 Albion Row and this time she exagerated her age by two years making herself 77.

    Use the census records to find where and when an ancestor was born but beware of the 'flexible' ages given as in the examples above.

    Where to find Census Information

    All the UK census records 1841 - 1901 can now be searched online. Use the links at the top right of this page to find them. Indexes may be searched free but there is a small charge to view the actual records. It's also possible to look at microfilm copies of these records in Public Record Offices and Local libraries.

    A note about spelling. Spelling has only been standardised in the UK since about 1870 so its quite possible that you may find your ancestors with a different spelling of their surname to what you expect.

    One of the most useful census records is that of 1881. The entire census is available free online and has been copied to CD Roms and can be searched. You may purchase copies of these CDs from the LDS. Your local genealogical library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints will have a copy. You might also check your local library for this. A note of warning, not everyone has told the truth on the census. Enumerators made mistakes. Spelling can be phonically interpreted. As an example, I was unable to find my ancestor, James Marr, although I knew his exact address at the time of the 1881 census. I eventually found him under the name, James Mure. If you can't find an ancestor try variations of the surname taking into account any local accent. Remember it is possible that an ancestor may have been away from the area and not recorded where you expect them. (During the 2001 census I was in Canada).

    The 1901 census has now been released for public viewing by the Public Record Office. The census is available on-line at A user is able to consult the indexes for free and search: by name, place, address, institution or vessel. Having found the record you will then be able to view a digital image of the census return. The image being the whole page from the enumerator's book in which the entry appears. This will cost just 10p. Alternatively you may view the details for an individual transcribed from the census returns. Payments may be made by credit card with a minimum charge of £5. The funds generated will be used to make the earlier census records available in the same way.

    1911 - 1931 Censuses

    It is possible to obtain more recent information from the census. You will need to provide the exact address and name, give your reason for requiring the information, prove you're a descendant and if anyone on the record is still alive, get their permission to obtain the data. A ruling by the Information Commissioner in December 2006 means that the National Archives have been forced to make the information held in the 1911- 1921 census available now rather than waiting for 100 years (1931 would have been available also had the documents survived). However for practical reasons, all that is available at the moment is a paid for search (£45) by National Archives staff to give the details of people living at a nominated address. There is an online form available to request information. The National Archives plan to make the 1911 census fully availablle online from January 3rd 2012.

    The 1911 census, which was taken on the night of Sunday 2/3rd April 1911, asked two additional questions which will be of great use to genealogy these are:

    • Number of years married (present marriage, question only answered by married women)
    • Number of children born to present marriage, number that are still living, number who have died. (again present marriage, married women only)

    In addition further occupation information was requested so that usual occupation rather than 'unemployed' would be given. You may also find more detailed information about the birthplace of those who were born abroad. For this census a form was left for the head of the household to complete rather than the enumerator asking questions. The original forms may be seen at

    More Recent Census

    1921 Sun. 19/20th June 1921
    1931 Sun. 26/27st April 1931 - The records of this census were destroyed in a fire.
    1941 This census was not taken due to WW2, however a National Registration was taken on Friday 29 Sep 1939 so that identity cards could be produced. Unfortunately this too has been destroyed.
    1951 Sun. 8/9th April 1951.
    1961 Sun. 23/24th April 1961 Although more questions were asked a backwards step was taken as far as genealogy is concerned since only the country of birth was requested.
    1971 Sun. 25/26th April 1971
    1981 Sun. 5/6th April 1981
    1991 Sun 21/22nd April 1991
    2001 Sun 29/30th April 2001

    The 1921,1951 and 1961 census forms are Crown copyright material and reproduced with the permission of the Controller Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI)


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