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Census returns have taken place in England and Wales every ten years since 1801. They detail all those occupying every household in every street in every neighbourhood throughout England and Wales. The censuses taken in 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831 are generally of statistical value only with names not normally recorded.

However from the 1841 census onwards when name recording started, censuses provide a valuable snapshot of families at a moment in time. They uniquely list whole families (or at least all those together on the same day) rather than individuals with valuable detail on each household occupant, especially age and place of birth.

The latest census available for family historians to research is the 1911 Census

In addition, the 1939 Register is now available online.  Although not a census per se, it is arranged along similiar lines and includes similiar, if less detailed information.  In September 1939 just after the second world war had broken out 65,000 enumerators were employed to visit every house in England and Wales to record key details of each civilian, issuing identity cards on the spot to over 41 million of them

  Information Provided

1841 Census

  • Household - place name and parish only
  • Each household occupant - forename, surname, occupation, gender, age (rounded down to nearest 5 years if age over 15), whether born in same county, Scotland, Ireland or in a foreign country
  1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 Censuses
  • Household - full address
  • Each household occupant - forename, middle names or initials, surname, occupation, gender, age, relationship to head of household, marital status, county and parish of birth or foreign country of birth, if disabled the type of disability, PLUS from 1891 onwards in Wales whether language spoken is Welsh, English or both
  1939 Register
  • Household - full address
  • Each household occupant - forenames, surname, gender, date of birth, marital status, occupation


  • Children's ages were often boosted to circumvent child labour rules
  • Teenage girls in domestic service often exaggerated their age to get higher wages
  • Those on poor relief wanting to avoid workhouses claiming to be over 60 when they were in fact younger
  • Wives deceiving their husbands about their real ages
    Relationship to Head of Household
  • Disguised illegitimate births such as an unmarried daughter's illegitimate child being passed off as the youngest child of her father
  • Remember that only the occupant's relationship to the head of the household is stated - do not assume the wife is the occupant's mother
    Places of Birth
  • Over 10% of birthplaces given in urban censuses do not tie in with earlier or later census information
  • A common habit of misleadingly 'generalising' a birthplace to the town or city nearest the actual birthplace
  • The same place name can refer to very different locations (be it a hamlet, village, town or parish)
    1939 Register Exclusions
  • Excludes members of the armed forces at the time
  • Excludes anyone born less than 100 years ago and who is still living or who died after 1991 (information blanked out)
  • 1939 Register:
  • The complete 1939 register can be fully searched at - searches can be made by name or address or browsed by place or street - optional search fields include birth date, birth year, sex, marital status, occupation, other household members
  • Household transcripts can be viewed online now free of charge at the National Archives in Kew
  • 1911 Census:
  • The complete 1911 census can be fully searched and viewed on a subscription basis at Find My Past - an annual subscription for their lowest cost package (which also includes access to the GRO Register of births, marriages and deaths) costs 72 and a monthly one costs £8.95
  • The 1911 census can also be viewed at and the Genealogist subscription sites - however at there is only a limited indexing currently available and at the Genealogist site the development of their online version of the 1911 census is still in progress
  • The 1911 census can be viewed for free at the National Archives
  • 1901 Census:
  • The 1901 Census can be viewed at the Genealogist web site - the majority of transcripts are available on a subscription basis, the complete set is available on a pay-as-you-go basis - the indexing of this census is currently being undertaken by over 8,000 members of the Census Name-Indexing Project who enjoy free subscription and other benefits
  • The 1901 Census can also be viewed on a subscription basis at or Find My Past
  • 1881 Census:
  • The fully indexed 1881 Census can be freely viewed online at . This site provides name indexed free access to transcripts of all household records held in the 1881 Census
  • 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891 Censuses:
  • It is worth checking out FreeCEN (part of the volunteer run Free UK Genealogy group which provides free access to Parish Registers, Census and Birth, Marriage & Death records)- its coverage of census records for several counties is now 100% complete
  • Fully indexed 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891 Censuses can all be viewed on a subscription basis at and at Find My Past
  • Complete transcripts with linked images of the original census pages for the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891 Censuses can be viewed at the Genealogist subscription site - the indexing of these censuses is currently being undertaken by over 8,000 members of the Census Name-Indexing Project who enjoy free subscription and other benefits
  • 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891 Censuses:
  • CD-ROM coverage is patchy from county to county and from census year to census year. However, coverage is being continually extended and you are recommended to check the advertisements in the genealogical magazines to see what is currently available for purchase.
  • All 1841 to 1901 Censuses:
  • Microfilm/fiche copies of all the Census records from 1841 to 1901 for the whole of England and Wales can be viewed at the National Archives. The complete set of microfilmed censuses is also held at the Family History Library of the Latter-day Saints in Utah. Following an online catalogue search for its reference number, the relevant microfilm reel can be ordered and subsequently viewed at any LDS Family History Centre for a modest fee. The National Library of Wales holds microfilm/fiche copies of all census records from 1841 to 1901 for the whole of Wales and some border areas.
  • Local Censuses:
  • Most Record Offices and many County Libraries hold microfilm/microfiche copies of all the Censuses (1841 to 1901) for their local area - microfiche copies of various census returns can also be purchased from many family history societies
This page last updated: 9 November 2018