Genealogy Help

Census Returns

Understandable genealogy services

Census returns are particularly valuable as they record information on all members of a family in residence at that time, this may show the parents but also children and sometimes aunts, uncles or even grandparents. The information obtained from census returns and birth, marriage and death certificates can often lead researchers to earlier records of the family.

The census started in 1801, but for genealogical purposes, the first useful census occurred in 1841. There is a 100-year privacy rule for UK censes, so the last available census is the 1901 return. Through a quirk of the law, and now the 1911 census is available, but the website is not yet stable enough to guarantee access!

The censes were held every ten years, and recorded the location of all people in the UK over the night of the census and recorded as the location as of midnight on the Sunday. These dates are as follows:

  • 6th June 1841
  • 30th March 1851
  • 7th April 1861
  • 2nd April 1871
  • 3rd April 1881
  • 5th April 1891
  • 31st March 1901
  • 2nd April 1911
  • 19th June 1921 (available 2022)
  • 26th April 1931 (destroyed by fire in WWII)
  • 29th September 1939 - ID cards (except service personnel - not covered by the census act, it is now commercially available with limitations)
  • 1941 - no census due to war
  • 8th April 1951 (available 2052)
  • 23rd April 1961 (available 2062)
  • 25th April 1971 (available 2072)
  • 5th April 1981 (available 2082)
  • 21st April 1991 (available 2092)
  • 29th April 2001 (available 2102)
  • 2011 census is said to be the last census

Back to top

Definition Of Terms Used On Census Returns - England & Wales 1841-1911

Annuitant - The term annuitant could describe someone on an annual allowance as well as someone receiving annual income from an investment. Often, however, it was also used for institutionalised pensioners.

Boarder - a person who shares the dinner table with the family.

Lodger - a person who has separate accommodation to the householder.

Lunatic - a mentally ill person with periods of lucidity.

Imbecile - persons who have fallen in later life into a state of chronic dementia.

Idiot - persons who suffer from congenital mental deficiency.

Scholar - from 1861 onwards a child was described as a scholar if he/she was over 5 and receiving daily schooling or regular tuition at home. There was no definition of the latter. In 1871 the census officials in London broke the confidentiality pledge and divulged the names of all children 3-13 and their parents (with addresses) to the London School Board to help enforce compulsory education.

Dressmaker - the occupation of 'dressmaker' was commonly given by prostitutes (!) as well as real dressmakers. Unmarried women with children are sometimes listed as Widows, with Husband Lost at Sea!

In-Law - terms such as Brother and Brother-in-Law were used interchangeably and somewhat unreliable. Likewise Sister and Sister-in-Law. Step-children are sometimes listed as in-laws.

Back to top