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Genealogy Building Blocks – Census

Genealogy Building Blocks – Census

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Let us now consider Genealogy Building Blocks – Census. I intend in this post to teach you about the census from 1841 – 1911, there are earlier ones and I will cover them in the next Genealogy Building Blocks post. There is a lot to learn about the 1841 – 1911 census so let’s start.

Using The Records

Having compiled your basic family tree either on paper (get free printable charts here) or online at Ancestry or FindMyPast Genealogy Building Blocks - filling in the census form cartoonusing the birth, marriage and death indexes and certificates and the cemetery records that we have covered in the two early posts you are ready to expand your research into the census records. Chose an ancestor and locate the census that is nearest to their birth i.e. for someone born in 1873 you would start with the 1881 census. Once you have found them on that census you can then work forward finding them on each census until their death or 1911 which is the most recent census available for public viewing. Remember that a female ancestor’s surname will change if/when they marry. Knowing your ancestors parents and/or siblings is very helpful when locating the correct census entries for when they were a child. However if you don’t know the parents names but do know their husband and children then start with a census nearest their marriage as that will give you clues to use when looking for the earlier ones.

It should be kept in mind that people did not always give the enumerator the correct information, sometimes it may have been because they simply didn’t know the answer to the questions asked and they guessed, sometimes it would have been deliberate especially where females and ages were concerned ! Always look for other documentation to confirm the facts found in the census. In fact it is always a good plan to look for at least two if not more pieces of evidence for the facts you enter on your family tree.

Lucy Diddams on AncestryEnter the census details either on your online tree or if you are using paper charts  downloadable printable census forms are here. If you are using Ancestry I suggest you include a note in the description box giving a basic outline of the census facts. If you have a subscription then you will be able to attach a link to the census so that you can view the actual document, but I find it helpful to have the basis immediately visible. You can put your family tree on both Ancestry and FindMyPast for free, but you won’t be able to attach documents such as census to the tree.

Here is an example for my 3rd great-grand mother Lucy Diddams. You can see that in the box for the 1851 census I have noted the following – Bullington Street. Lucy is living with her daughter Charity and son in law John Whatley and her grandchildren Priscilla, Sarah, Rhoda, John, Mary & Mark. She is 82 years old, a pauper housekeeper and born in Bullington.

I have found that adding the basic information in the description box of my Ancestry online tree to be very helpful and a real time saver.

Do take the time to look at who your ancestors neighbours were as you may find that family are living quite close by, this applies to cities as well as villages. If you have the time and your ancestor is living in a small village then I recommend that you search the whole village noting family names as they are sure to link up with your ancestor. Reading the census for a village doesn’t take so long and can bring forth a real feel for the community in which your ancestor lived.

So how was the census collected and what facts does each census give you?

How was the data collected.

It is very important when using any documents to know a little of why they were compiled Genealogy Building Blocks Censusespecially as most weren’t written with genealogists in mind. The census are government documents that gathered together information about the population that could be used to make informed decision regarding many aspects of life such as housing, population shifts such as movement from the country to the industrial towns and cities, education and health provisions and enlistment into the armed services at time of war.

As you can image there have always some who have tried to avoid being recorded in the census and others, like my great grandfather, who as a child managed to be recorded twice – once with his parents and once with his grandmother who lived a few cottages away down the same road! The enumerators who visited the houses on the days after the census would have asked who had slept there on census night. Some would have had to visit houses several times to try to find the head of the household at home and ask his questions and find out who had slept there on the night of the census. There are instances of boarding houses just being recorded as some many males and so many females slept the night there. No records were taken by some boarding house proprietors as to names etc for those who were just staying a night, no doubt as long as they had paid the fee required nothing more was required.

It is thought that most enumerators recorded the information that they were given in a notebook and then once returning home they would then fill in the forms that were sent in  the government department and which we see today. As the handwriting often looks very consistent and I have never seen as sign of rain drops or grubby marks I think this is probably correct. It wasn’t until the 1911 census that a form was delivered to the house and the head of the household was asked to fill the form  him/herself.

1841 Census taken 6 June

genealogy Building Blocks - 1841 CensusAs I mentioned earlier there were census taken earlier than 1841, but they generally were just numbers of males and females living in a household and perhaps ages. I will cover those census in a later post.

The 1841 census therefore was the first where names were required to be recorded. The information recorded is as follows:-

 

 

 

 

 

  • City or Borough
  • Parish or Township
  • Place – note that street numbers weren’t commonly used until much later and in some places not until the 1911 census
  • Whether the house was inhabited or uninhabited
  • Name of person who slept there the proceeding night. The head of the household is recorded first, but after that there wasn’t a particular order. Also no note was made of the relationship between the head and the other people who slept there on census night.
  • Age and Sex – note that for those over 15 years old the ages were rounded down to the nearest 5 years. For example some aged 29 would have been recorded as aged 25.
  • Profession, Trade, Employment or of Independent Means.
  • Whether born in the county in which they spent the night – a yes or no answer was required
  • If no then whether they were born in Scotland, Ireland or Foreign Parts – usually if there was an entry in this column it was an S or I or F

This census hasn’t survived well as the ink or pencil hadn’t worn well, however using ultra-violet light many formerly unreadable census have now been able to be read.

1851 Census taken 30 March

genealogy Building Blocks - 1851 Census

By the time of the 1851 census the value of having a ten yearly census had become apparent to the government and they asked for more details from the population.

 

 

 

 

  • Parish or Townshop
  • Ecclesiastical District
  • City or Borough
  • Town or Village
  • Each house was numbered in the enumerators district, these were not street numbers
  • Name of Road, Street or Place, Number or Name
  • Name and Surname
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition – this means married, single, widowed etc.
  • Age
  • Rank, Profession or Occupation
  • Where Born
  • Whether Blind or Deaf and Dumb

The relationship to the head of household and actual age makes this census more genealogically valuable than the 1841 census. From 1851 census special returns were completed for vessels in British waters and institutions such as hospital, prisons and workhouses were also recorded on special returns. The institutions sometimes just contain initials rather than full names for some reason, I have as yet to find a satisfactory explanation for this, but I am sure there must have been one!

1861 Census taken 7 April

genealogy Building Blocks - 1861 CensusThere must have been a need found for taking note of uninhabited houses because this was included again in the 1861 census where it had been missing from the 1851. Otherwise it was identical to the 1851 census.

  • Parish or Township
  • Ecclesiastical District
  • City or Borough
  • Town or Village
  • Each house was numbered in the enumerators district, these were not street numbers
  • Name of Road or Street etc, Number or House Name
  • Whether the house was inhabited or uninhabited
  • Name and Surname
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition – this means married, single, widowed etc.
  • Age
  • Rank, Profession or Occupation
  • Where Born
  • Whether Blind or Deaf and Dumb

1871 Census taken 2 April

genealogy Building Blocks - 1871 Census

It has been explained to me that a person designated an imbecile or idiot was a person who was born with mental health conditions and a lunatic was someone with a condition that became apparent later in life. These statistics were obviously being gathered so that the need for hospital and asylums could be considered.

 

 

 

  • Civil Parish
  • Municipal Borough
  • Municipal Ward
  • Parliamentary Borough
  •  Town
  • Village or Hamlet
  • Local Board or Improvement Commissioners District
  • Schedule no
  • Whether the house was inhabited or uninhabited
  • Name of Road or Street etc, Number or House Name
  • Name and Surname
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition – this means married, single, widowed etc.
  • Age
  • Rank, Profession or Occupation
  • Where Born
  • 1. Deaf and Dumb 2. Blind 3. Imbecile or Idiot 4. Lunatic

 

1881 Census taken 3 April

Identical to the 1881 census.Identical to the 1871 census.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Civil Parish
  • Municipal Borough
  • Municipal Ward
  • Parliamentary Borough
  •  Town, Village or Hamlet
  • Rural Sanitary District
  • Ecclesiastical Parish or District
  • Schedule no
  • Name of Road or Street etc, Number or House Name
  • Whether the house was inhabited or uninhabited
  • Name and Surname
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition – this means married, single, widowed etc.
  • Age
  • Rank, Profession or Occupation
  • Where Born
  • 1. Deaf and Dumb 2. Blind 3. Imbecile or Idiot 4. Lunatic

 

1891 Census taken 5 April

Genealogy Building Blocks - 1891 CensusObviously the government was keen to know what the rate of unemployment was by the insertion of the employer etc category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Civil Parish
  • Municipal Borough
  • Municipal Ward
  • Urban Sanitary District
  •  Town, Village or Hamlet
  • Rural Sanitary District
  • Parliamentary Borough
  • Ecclesiastical Parish or District
  • Schedule no
  • Name of Road or Street etc, Number or House Name
  • Whether the house was inhabited or uninhabited
  • Number of rooms occupied if less than five
  • Name and Surname
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition – this means married, single, widowed etc.
  • Age
  • Rank, Profession or Occupation
  • Employer, Employed or Nether employer or employed
  • Where Born
  • 1. Deaf and Dumb 2. Blind 3. Lunatic, Imbecile or Idiot

 

1901 Census taken 31 March

Genealogy Building Blocks - 1901 census

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Civil Parish
  • Ecclesiastical Parish
  • County Borough, Municipal Borough or Urban District
  • Ward of Municipal Borough or Urban Borough
  • Rural District
  • Parliamentary Borough or Division
  •  Town, Village or Hamlet
  • Schedule no
  • Houses – inhabited, in occupation, not in occupation, Building
  • Name of Road or Street etc, Number or House Name
  • Number of rooms occupied if less than five
  • Name and Surname
  • Relationship to the head of the household
  • Condition as to marriage
  • Age last birthday
  • Rank, Profession or Occupation
  • Employer, worker or own account
  • If working at home
  • Where Born
  • 1. Deaf and Dumb 2. Blind 3. Lunatic 4. Imbecile or feeble minded

1911 Census taken on 2 April

Genealogy Building Blocks - 1911 CensusThis census has far more complex headings so here is a link to a chart giving all the headings very clearly. This census was the first to be filled in by the head of household. If their writing ability was in question they could ask the enumerator to help and this was noted on the form. It is a special pleasure to see our ancestors signature at the bottom of the form.

Where can the census be found?

All census are available online at Ancestry, FindMyPast and other subscription based websites. They are available to read free of charge at The National Archives, Kew, London and at county archives for that county. The LDS Church Family History Centres may also have access to census, but these centres are now becoming fewer and with shorter opening hours. I am sure a time can’t be too far away when there will be no centres remaining apart from the main genealogy library in Salt Lake City as more and more records are now able to be access online from home.

 

 

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