In England, Scotland and Wales a census has been taken every ten years since 1801 (except in 1941).
However, it was only in 1841 that the names of individuals were included; the previous censuses (1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831) were nothing more than headcounts and are of limited use to the family historian. The original census returns for these years have rarely survived.
Censuses were taken on the following dates:
- 1801 10 March
- 1811 27 May
- 1821 28 May
- 1831 29 May
- 1841 6 June
- 1851 30 March
- 1861 7 April
- 1871 2 April
- 1881 3 April
- 1891 5 April
- 1901 31 March
- 1911 2 April
The 1841 census was completed by an enumerator, but from 1851 the census forms were distributed to households.
The censuses were compiled using the same system of registration districts that were used for the registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales, each registrar’s sub-district being sub divided into a number of enumeration districts.
Although the 1841 census was the first to ask for detailed information, the information recorded differs from that recorded on later censuses. The following information was recorded in 1841 about each person:
- forename and surname
- age (rounded down to the nearest 5 years for those aged 15 or over)
- whether they were born in the county in which they were living or whether they were born in Scotland [S], Ireland [I] or Foreign Parts [F].
An address was included for each household but house numbers were rarely provided, in rural areas often only the name of the village would be provided.
Location of records
The census returns for England and Wales are available for free at any Sheffield Library using Findmypast on any People's Network computer.
It is recommended you book a computer in advance of your visit.
Details on census forms from 1851 include: address, forename, middle names (often initials) and surname, age, relation to head, marital status, occupation and county and parish of birth.
Individual schedules would have been distributed to householders and collected the morning after the night the census was taken.
The schedules were then sorted and copied into enumerators’ books. The original schedules were subsequently destroyed.
Census returns are not available until 100 years have passed; hence the 1911 census is the latest one available.
A4 printouts are available at a cost 10p for a black and white copy or 50p for colour.