A Useful Guide to British, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Census Records | Genealogy

A big hello everyone and welcome to the eighth video in this origins series.

This series takes, what I have learnt over the last 25 years of genealogical research and turned into a collection of How to videos. The series includes a deep dive into several DNA Haplogroups because today as a genealogist, DNA has become a big part of research and learning. 

DNA today is just as important a tool to research as the public records that will tell your family story –

Which leads to me to what todays video is all about.

British census records, what are they? What census records are available? Why are they important? What can they tell you about your ancestors? and some important dates to watch out for now and in the future.

Census records are some of the most important resources for British family history. They help you track how your family changed over time and reveal information about your ancestors that you won’t find anywhere else. Historical censuses are held by The National Archives and are also available as online records on sites such as Ancestry and Find my Past

What is a census?

Censuses are recorded by governments periodically and act as population reports. The official meaning of a census from the Oxford Dictionary says it’s;

“the process of officially counting something, especially a country’s population, and recording various facts.”

Taking a census usually involves all householders completing census forms that list information about their lives and their family on a specific day periodically. A census taker or enumerator delivers and collects the household forms in their assigned area.

Why are censuses important?

The recorded population data is used by governments for planning things like healthcare, education and employment services at a national, regional and local level. From a genealogy perspective, historical census records are invaluable snapshots of your relatives at a given point in time.

How often is the census?

In the UK, censuses have been taken on a given census day every 10 years since 1801 with just one exception. The 1941 Census didn’t happen due to the Second World War.

That wasn’t the only problem to affect census records during wartime. A fire in 1942 completely destroyed the 1931 Census for England and Wales. 

For family history, a useful way to bridge that unfortunate records gap is by using the 1939 Register as a census substitute.

When is the next British census?

The next British census is scheduled to take place in 2031, a decade on from the most recent one on 21 March 2021. Statisticians have predicted that the 2021 Census could be the last of its kind as cheaper alternatives for gathering data are explored. The 2021 Scotland Census has been postponed until 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Completing the census every decade is your chance to leave your mark and help shape the future. Just imagine, generations from now, your descendants might be checking it to find out more about you.

UK census dates throughout history

From 1801 to 1831, census records were used to create summaries of localities and later destroyed. So, for family historians, the full censuses dating from 1841 to 1921 are the ones of real interest.

Here’s a brief summary on the history of British censuses and what these detailed family records can tell you.

1801 Census

The first UK census was taken on 10 March 1801. Only fragments like 1801 Kent, Dartford Census include details useful for tracing family history.

1811 Census

Taken on 27 May 1811, only summary counts of households were collected so it’s not very useful from a genealogical perspective.

1821 Census

Like those before it, only counts were taken for this census which took place on 28 May that year. You’ll find some exceptions that do include householder details for areas like Kent, Westminster and Orkney.

1831 Census

This census was taken on 30 May 1831. Excerpts from Westminster, Sheffield and Shrewsbury survive, among others.

1841 Census

The first fully surviving UK census was taken on 6 June 1841.

The 1841 Census can reveal useful information for your family tree including:

  • Names
  • Ages
  • Genders
  • Addresses
  • Birthplaces and usually as a county perspective

1851 Census

The 1851 census took place on 30 March that year.

As well as all of the information included in the 1841 Census, this edition also features more information on your family’s relationships. Each entry includes:

  • Relationship to head of household
  • Marital status

1861 Census

Taken on 7 April 1861, this census includes all of the same information as the one that was recorded a decade earlier.

This is perfect for tracing who used to live at your address or how your local area has changed over time.

1871 Census

Another UK census was recorded in England, Scotland and Wales on 2 April 1871.

The information that was captured in the previous two censuses was sought again in 1871.

1881 Census

Transcripts of the 1881 UK census, recorded on 3 April that year, are available on Ancestry and Findmypast, this was the first full census to be transcribed and the first to become available as an online resource.

Like previous censuses, details on names, ages, addresses and family relationships are included.

Once the 1881 Census was fully compiled, officials noted that there was an alarming rise in the number of individuals being reported as “deaf and dumb”, compared to previous census returns. After enquiries were made, it transpired that many enumerators had recorded babies as being deaf and dumb simply because they could not speak.

1891 Census

For the first time, the UK census recorded a person’s employment status in 1891. This adds even more colour as you build a detailed picture of your ancestors’ lives.

In Wales, the 1891 Census included an extra question on the language spoken.

This census took place on 5 April 1891.

1901 Census

The first UK census of the 20th century requested the same information as the one before it. It was taken on 31 March 1901.

As well as individuals residing in households, censuses also record people on board docked ships, hospital patients, prisoners, workhouse inmates and military personnel stationed in barracks.

1911 Census

The 1911 Census was taken on 2 April that year. Until the 1921 Census was released, it was often a must-search starting point for anyone new to British family history.

The 1911 Census contains far more information than any census that came before it. For the first time, the census recorded:

  • Nationality
  • Marriage length
  • The number of children who were born, who died and who were still living

Scotland’s census from 1911 is only available online at scotlandspeople.gov.uk.

There are some known missing pages from UK census records.

1921 Census

The 1921 Census is the last surviving census that was taken before 1951, meaning it holds incredibly crucial information for those researching their family history. 

For the first time in history, the 1921 Census requested employer information, giving you a more enhanced picture of your ancestors. 

When will census records next be released?

Due to UK privacy laws, 100 years must pass before the public can access census records. The 1931 Census took place on 26 April in England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland was recorded as part of the 1926 Irish Census so wasn’t included in the 1931 UK Census. Along with the information requested in 1921, the 1931 Census asked respondents about their usual place of residence. While the records for England and Wales were destroyed by fire, the 1931 Census for Scotland survives.

The next UK census was on 8 April 1951 with the records due to be released in 2052. It included questions on household amenities for the first time.

Next week will be the ninth video in this series and we will be taking a look at British parish records and how they can help you learn more about your ancestors.

Until next time, a very big thank you for joining me

Stay safe, keep well and bye for now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s