Census Records

Have you already tried to use the birth, marriage and death indexes to trace your ancestors? Then census records are the next step in your research.

The census has been taken every ten years since 1841 and provides a unique snapshot of a day in the life of your forebears. Census records can also help to create new avenues of research, as well as providing answers, when you think you’ve reached a brick wall.

The census gives you information about:

  • Where a specific person lived at the time of the census
  • Who else lived in that same accommodation at the time, and their relationship to your ancestor
  • Details of siblings can be particularly helpful as they are often difficult to trace through birth indexes alone
  • You will learn what your ancestor, and the other occupants, did for a living
  • Their age
  • Their status (single, married, divorced, widowed)

Findmypast now allows you to view previously hidden information from the 1911 census. Firstly the ‘infirmity’ column, indicating your ancestor’s state of health at the time of the census and you’re now also able to see any recorded details of children born to women in prison, who were aged three or under at the time of the census.

Things to remember about the census:

  • They are only taken every ten years
  • Dates you can search between are limited: 1841-1911 (the census began in 1841 and the 1921 census details won’t become available until 2021 because of the 100-year secrecy rule)
  • Details of occupants were taken on the day. If your ancestor happened to be somewhere else that day, for whatever reason, their details will have been recorded at that unusual location or, if abroad, not at all
  • Errors are commonplace, because illiteracy was particularly high in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. People were often liberal with the truth when it came to recording their ages, for example, and enumerators (people who called house-house to record the occupants’ details) were instructed to round age down to the nearest multiple of five – someone aged 69, therefore, would be recorded as being 65!
  • As a rule, when searching, less is more. The more information you enter for your search, the greater the risk of error, so it’s best to begin your search with simple criteria and narrow down the results

It is also worth remembering that although the census only dates back to 1841, once you have exhausted the information you can find from census details, you can still search further back in time via parish records