Making sense of the Census


The UK Census is perhaps the most important source for research in conjunction with birth, marriage and death records.

+ How can we use the census effectively?

+ Did the first useful census for family historians appear in 1841?

+ How might we use the census for understanding the lives of our ancestors, beyond the family unit?

+ Review what you do know, and discover what you don’t know about this important genealogical resource

Talk overview

The UK Census

+ Is a snap shot of a family on a particular night and shows whole family groupings
+ Started in 1801; however 1801 – 1831 was only a headcount
+ Taken every 10 years since, excluding 1941 (World War II)
+ Useful information from 1841 up to 1911
+ After civil registration the UK Government wanted more detailed information on the population


Using the Census

Use an ancestors birth certificate as a basis for searching; the names included (child and parents), place of birth, and fathers occupation should help identify the correct family on the first census after the birth


How Census information was collected

+ Each household given a schedule with census questions to complete
+ Delivered and collected later by hand by enumerators (in charge of an enumeration district)
+ Enumerators completed the forms for families if they couldn’t (sometimes leading to misinterpretation of names – either heard or written)
+ Once forms completed, these were collected in and details copied into a printed census book
+ Census books should have been double checked against schedules
+ Skills required to be an enumerator: reading and writing; pay poor so many didn’t bother with quality
+ Completed Census books sent to Government Census Office where clerks extracted information the Government required – you will see marks, ticks and crosses on the returns indicating these checks.


Further uses of the Census

+ Trawl through the returns to gain an insight into surrounding area for industries, occupations, facilities in the area
+ Track down a large scale Ordinance Survey map at the record office to look at the area
+ Look at Census Enumerators route (listed at the beginning of the Census Enumeration District) as its lists features on route; pubs, railways or hotels – giving you a feel for the area
+ View statistical information connected with each district as well as instructions given to enumerators
+ Mis-transcriptions exist on websites, try using a another website to search the index for free, and return to the subscribed site when you have more information.


Book my talk to discover

+ Introduction to the UK Census
+ Dates published
+ How to use the UK Census
+ What does it include (generally)?
+ Where to find the UK Census
+ General use of Census
+ Breaking brick walls – missing people from the census
+ What does each published year contain and how does this vary over time
+ How Census information was collected
+ Pre 1841 England and Wales Census material
+ Overseers and clergymen lists
+ Local Census lists
+ Other substantial listings
+ Further uses of the Census
+ and much more

View all my talks and book me

The UK Census

Making sense of the Census

Back to basics

Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?

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