Using English Census Records

Census records provide a bounty of valuable information and computers, and the internet, has made searching through their records very easy.  A census has been compiled in England every 10 years since 1841 except 1941.

Census records provide a bounty of valuable information and computers, and the internet, has made searching through their records very easy.

In England, a census has been conducted every year since 1801 but only the censuses from 1841 onwards contain information about individuals.  Before that, each census was essentially a head count.

I have used the Ancestry website extensively for searching census records.  They now have just about full transcripts for all the censuses in England from 1841 until 1911 (the last one that has been released under the 100 year rule).

Starting to research the census records

As with all family history, the best place to start is with what you already know and by asking members of your family for any information they have.

One common way of using census records is to work backwards from a known starting point.  So lets assume you know the name of an ancestor and roughly where they were living in 1911.  On simply choose the link to the 1911 census, type in their name and the county in which you think they were living in 1911.  It is usually wiser not to try and enter too much information, you may inadvertently exclude the ancestor you are seeking.  Better to enter less information and only go back and enter more if too many results are returned for you to be able to identify the person you are researching.

Depending upon how much information you have used and how common the name, you may have quite a choice of possible suspects.  Usually clicking on the ‘view entry’ link, followed by ‘view other family members’ will be enough to tell you whether you have found the right person.

Census information

The information given by the census record will include

  • Name – the maiden name of course of a married ancestor
  • Estimated year of birth – this has been calculated by the age given on the original census return and may be a year or two out depending on the time of year the person was born.  Mistakes often happened with people not remembering exactly old they were or perhaps not wishing to!
  • Where born: this is very important information since it will help to identify the person on future searches
  • Address, occupation and other members of the household: Click on ‘view image’ will give a facsimile of the original census entry is shown.  This will show the address, other members of the household and their occupations.  A real picture of the family starts to take shape!

Recording census information

Having got this far, it is important to accurately record all the information you have found.  I would recommend printing off a copy of the census return and making sure that you have the complete reference for that entry.

Complete reference, eg RG13/43 132/34

Group code – RG (Register General, from 1861 onwards) or HO (Home Office for 1841 or 1851)

Class number – 13

The document number – 43

The folio number – 132

Page number – 34

This will allow you to access the information again should you want to check anything or if you have omitted to make a note of something.

Now that you have located an ancestor in the 1911 census, you stand a very good chance of finding the family in the 1891 census.  If the ancestor was only  a child in 1901, then you should be able to find at least their father.  If their parents were not married by the 1891 census then of course you will need to find their mother’s maiden name in order to find where she was living in 1891.

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