Each record includes a transcript of the original record. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information about your ancestor:
Other occupants of househousehold
The first thorough survey of England took place in 1086 when William the Conqueror commissioned the Domesday Book, which provided a detailed inventory of land and property. Unlike a modern census, however, the Domesday Book didn’t give an accurate count of the people living in England then. Its purpose was to establish the ownership of assets in order to calculate taxes on these assets. In 1279 King Edward 1 ordered an inquiry into landholding in England. The surviving returns were arranged by hundred, and so they came to be called the Hundred Rolls. In the Tudor and Stuart eras, bishops were responsible for counting the number of families in their dioceses, but the British were very reluctant to carry out an official census. Some churchgoers thought that any type of population count was sacrilegious, citing the notorious census ordered by King David in Biblical times, while others claimed that a people count would reveal the country’s strengths and weaknesses to foreign enemies. In the latter part of the 18th century, there were a number of proposals for a Census Bill and mounting concern about the population of Britain and its demand for food. This was particularly fuelled by the 1798 publication of demographer Thomas Robert Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population, which proposed that population growth could outstrip supplies of food and other resources. The Census Bill was presented to Parliament in 1800 and passed as the Census Act 1800 (also called the Population Act 1800).
The first census was carried out on Monday 10 March 1801, and every decade thereafter.
The 1801 census comprised two parts: the first was related to the number of people, their occupations, and numbers of families and houses. The second was a collection of the numbers of baptisms, marriages and burials, thus providing an indication of the rate at which the population was increasing or decreasing. Information was gathered by census enumerators, who were typically the local Overseers of the Poor, assisted by constables, tithingmen, headboroughs and other officers of the peace – or in the case of Scotland, schoolmasters. (Ireland wasn’t included in the census until 1821.) They visited individual households and collected the necessary information, before submitting statistical summaries.
The 1801 census estimated the population of England and Wales to be 8.9 million, and that of Scotland to be 1.6 million. Information was processed by clerks using pens and paper; it wasn’t until a century later that punch cards, mechanical sorting, and counting machines were introduced. Computers were originally used in the 1961 census.
Since 1801, there has been a census every decade except in 1941, during World War 2. The fundamental principles of census taking are still the same, although new questions have been added and others have been removed.
Census Returns, 1801-1831
The first four national censuses were typically numerical in substance, usually little more than a head count, although a significant minority of returns do include personal information. The enumerators who collected the information asked very specific questions. These included:
Number of inhabited and uninhabited houses
Number of families living in each house
Number of males and females, including children
Number of baptisms, marriages, and burials for specified years
Number of men working in certain occupations, such as agriculture
As well as providing the above information, the fact that census returns are taken every decade also allows us to track the movements of our ancestors through time as they move home, get married, have children, or change occupations.
Furthermore, by noting how many households lived in a building and whether the household included servants or boarders or visitors, you can gain insight into the social circumstances of the family.
In 1831, the census questions were expanded somewhat, especially those relating to occupations, with the number of illegitimate births (for 1830) also being recorded for the first time.
Begin your search broadly with just a first and last name.
You can narrow your results if needed by adding a birth year, census year or parish.