Search for your ancestors amongst the 26 million people who were living in England, Wales and Scotland on April 2nd, 1871, and discover a detailed snapshot of their life at the time - their age, occupation, where they lived, who they lived with, their marital status and many more details about their lives and relationships.
The amount of information listed varies, but the 1871 census records usually include the following information about your ancestor:
Place of residence
Relationship to head of household
As well as searching for a person, you can also search the 1871 census by address - ideal for tracing your house history or exploring the local history of an area.
By noting how many households there were in a building, and whether the household included servants or boarders or visitors, you can gain insight into the social circumstances of the family.
When the 1871 census was taken on the night of 2 April 1871 the total population was recorded as 26,072,036. For the first time, the General Register Office attempted to co-ordinate taking a census across all the colonies and dependencies in the British Empire. The results found that there were 234,762,593 people in the British Empire.
As well as the information listed above, in 1871 the census may have recorded additional information about the property in which your relative was living. Piece number 693 is missing from the 1881 census: house numbers 17-22 Cunard Street, Camberwell, London. Part of house number 16 could be missing too if the house contained more children, a boarder or a visitor.
As with all historical research, the golden rule of family history is to check the original record, or "primary source", wherever possible. We have provided clear images of the original census enumeration books for you to view once you've found the right family in the indexes.
When using census returns, once you have located your ancestor in the census, you should then view the original images to validate your findings. The image of the original document will also help you see the household in the context of surrounding households as all the information will be provided in one clear place, as it was originally written down.
The original documents would have been given to your ancestor several days before 2 April, and the head of household would have been asked to fill in the details for anyone who would have been residing at that address on the census date. If the head of the household was unable to read or write, the enumerator - a literate person who would be collecting the census forms - would help fill in the details. Because of this, however, you may note mistakes that were made, such as name spellings. It should also be noted that many people were often economical with the truth when it came to their ages.
Note: the census includes details of people resident in docked vessels and institutions such as prisons, workhouses, hospitals, and barracks, as well as individual households.
Census returns don't only help us determine who our ancestors were, they can also help to open new lines of enquiry as to details of their own lives and those around them, by giving us all or some of the following information:
Where your ancestors were living
Who they were living with
What their occupations were
If they had any servants
Who their neighbours were
If they had any brothers and sisters
What their ages were at the time of the census
If they had any disabilities.
As well as giving us the above information, the fact that census returns are taken every ten years also allows us to track the movements of our ancestors through time as they perhaps move house, get married, have children or even change occupations.
A small number of permanent gaps exist in the 1871 census. Read our Census for England, Wales and Scotland: missing pieces article available in Useful Links and Resources section for the full details.