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What census records are available?

UK census records are a crucial family history resource, but when was the census taken and where can you find census records?

Census records

Census records are a vital resource for family historians researching British ancestors. In the UK, census records were completed by each household on a specific night every 10 years from 1801 (1821 for Ireland). However, the census records from 1841 to 1911 are the most detailed that are available to search on a national level. There is a 100-year closure ruling on the census, so the 1911 census records are the ones most recently opened to the public.

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When will the next UK census records be released?

The 1921 census records for Scotland will be available later in 2021 and in January 2022 for England and Wales. The 1931 census records for England and Wales were destroyed in the Blitz (the Scottish records will be released in 2032) and the 1941 census was not taken because of the Second World War, so after the 1921 release, there will be no new census records made available, for England and Wales at least, until the 1951 census in 2052. However, historical trade directories and the 1939 Register both serve as publicly available substitute census records.

What census records are available online?

The UK census records from 1841 to 1911 have been scanned and indexed by name online, providing a snapshot of the household at each property on a particular evening. The original forms were collected and transcribed by an enumerator, and bound into books, arranged geographically by district. Apart from the 1911 census records, the census records that you see online are images taken from the books that were compiled by the enumerator using the household schedules.

The arrangement reflects the route the enumerator took as he did his rounds collecting completed forms. In theory, even if your ancestors were prisoners, asylum inmates or fairground workers living in a caravan, they should have been included in the census records.

When was the 1801 census taken?

The 1801 census was taken on 10 March 1801 during the Napoleonic Wars and was intended to gather statistical information to manage increasing demand for food and gauge how many men were of military age.

What information was included in the 1801 census?

There was no set pre-printed form for enumerators, so information was recorded differently depending on the area. On the whole the 1801 census records show:
Street – Sometimes names of houses were included but houses rarely had numbers at this time.
Head of household – Only the head of each household is usually recorded although sometimes, for example in Illington, Norfolk, the enumerator recorded the names of everyone.
Living quarters – People were asked whether the family lived in the cellar, back house or front house. Those living in the back house may have had a shop or business at the front.
Number of families – Some houses had multiple families living in them.
Occupation – This recorded whether the head of the household was employed in agriculture; trade, manufacturing or handicraft; or other.
1801 census records for Liverpool
The 1801 census records for Liverpool are available on Findmypast
Findmypast

Is the 1801 census online?

Although a national collection of the 1801 has not survived, some indexes and images are online or links to surviving collections.
National List
Amlwych, Wales
Scotland
Dartford
Devon
Ealing
Liverpool on Findmypast includes images and index

When was the 1811 census taken?

The 1811 census was taken on 27 May 1811. Britain was still in the Napoleonic Wars and was about to embark on a war with the USA. The notebooks compiled by the enumerators were not required by the census authority. Many were discarded, but some survived in parish chests or account books of the overseers of the poor.
1811 census records Dallas Morayshire
The 1811 census records from Dallas Morayshire are atypical. A transcription can be found at bit.ly/wakefieldfhs-1811

What information was included in the 1811 census?

Information in the 1811 census records is similar to that in 1801, although rather than asking what the occupation for the head of the household was, residents were asked what the occupation of the family was. Again, information in the census records varies across the UK, but commonly includes:
Street – Including more house numbers this time.
Head of household – As before, only the head of household’s name was required.
Number of males and females in the household
Occupation of family: agriculture; trade, manufacturing or handicraft; or other.

Is the 1811 census online?

There are very few census records from the 1811 census online, but check the catalogues of local and national record offices to find surviving examples. Where records survive, check local family history societies for indexes parishchest.com.
National list
Scotland
Ashcott, Somerset  (can only be viewed at a FamilySearch affiliate library or family history centre)
Ealing, London
Honley, Yorkshire

When was the 1821 census taken?

The 1821 census was taken on 28 May 1821. This was the first time that Ireland was included in the census. Unlike in Scotland where the enumerators were schoolmasters and England and Wales where the enumerators were employed by the Poor Law unions, in Ireland, where hostility to the census was expected, enumerators were recruited from the police.

What information was included in the 1821 census?

The Irish 1821 census records hold more details than were requested elsewhere in the British Isles.

Street – Houses were more likely to be numbered at this stage making it easier to locate exactly where people lived.
Names of Inhabitants – In Ireland the census records asked for the names of all inhabitants. For the rest of the UK, as before, just the head of the household was supposed to be enumerated with notable exceptions e.g. the Dunsford, Cheriton Bishop and Tedburn St Mary examples from Devon on Findmypast which also included relationship to the head of household.
Age – In Ireland, the exact age of all inhabitants was included. Elsewhere most returns just put numbers of females and males in ten-year age categories.
Occupation – In England, Wales and Scotland the categories stayed the same as previous censuses, although some enumerators included precise occupations. In Ireland, exact occupations were included as was status for women e.g. widow, spinster or married.
Observations – In the Irish 1821 census records there is a column for observations that can be useful, for example adding details about visitors. Always check the original image.

Irish 1821 census records
Surviving Irish 1821 census records are now freely available online
National Archives of Ireland

Is the 1821 census online?

What survives of the 1821 Irish census records are online. There are also some examples from elsewhere in the British Isles including detailed census records from the Orkney Islands which are freely available on Findmypast.

National list
Ireland – the surviving records for the Irish 1821 census are free to access online
Scotland
Dartford, Kent available on Findmypast
Dunsford, Cheriton Bishop and Tedburn St Mary, Devon available on Findmypast
Marylebone, London available as an index only on Findmypast.
Orkney, Scotland freely available on Findmypast

When was the 1831 census taken?

The 1831 census was taken on 30 May 1831. There was a lot of political and social turmoil at the time so little change was made in how the information was collected.

What information was included in the 1831 census?

The 1831 census records are similar to previous ones. However, more detailed questions were asked about occupation.
Street – Both name of street and house number were included as a matter of course now.
Name of householder – As before with some exceptions such as in Penketh Lancashire, only the head of household was named, although a tally of males and females was kept as well as the number of families in the household.
Occupation – There were now seven categories instead of three including one for the middle classes ‘Wholesale Merchants, Capitalists, Bankers, Professional Persons and Other Educated Men’. At the other end of the scale was ‘Superannuated Labourers, and Males Diseased and Disabled in Body or Mind.’

Westminster 1831 census records
A page from the 1831 census records for Westminster in London. The index is available on Findmypast
London Metropolitan Archives

Is the 1831 census online?

As with other early UK census records surviving examples are held locally and not many have gone online.

National list
Ireland
Scotland
Derbyshire
Harrow – an extremely rare collection of 1831 census records actually filled in by the households found in the Harrow Poor Law records on Ancestry.
London, Westminster Marylebone
Nether Hallam, Sheffield
Shrewsbury

When was the 1841 census taken?

The 1841 census was taken on 6 June 1841. It was the first modern census that attempted to list the names of every person in the British Isles. It was also the first to compile the enumerators’ notes in pre-printed books and keep those books.

What information was included in the 1841 census?

Street and house number – Where more than one household shared a house, the enumerator separated the household with a single slash (/). A double slash (//) was used to indicate a new house.

Names – Everyone in the house on census night was supposed to be included although their relationship to the head of the household was not. A woman who shares the same surname as the head of the household and is a similar age may well be his wife but could also be a spinster sister, for example.

Age and sex – Only those under 15 were supposed to have their exact age entered. Those over 15 were meant to have their age rounded down to the next multiple of five, so someone who was 44 would be marked as 40. Many enumerators were confused by this and so it is not unusual to find exact ages included in the census records, although bear in mind that your ancestor may not have given their correct age.

Employment – Common occupations were shortened. For example ‘FS’ or ‘MS’ for male or female servant, ‘Ag Lab’ for agricultural labourer, ‘P’ for pensioner (army), ‘Ap’ for apprentice, ‘J’ for journeyman, ‘M’ for maker, ‘Sh’ for shop keeper and ‘Ind’ for independent means.

Where born – For the first time the census records asked a question about where people were born. Inhabitants were asked whether they were born in the county they were currently living in and whether they had been born abroad (including Scotland and Ireland).

1841 census records
1841 census records for Hinckley

Is the 1841 census online?

The UK 1841 census records are widely available online both on subscription and free websites. Because 1841 census records were recorded in pencil, they can sometimes be very faint and difficult to read. Ancestry rephotographed some pages making them easier to read but on other pages TheGenealogist has digitally enhanced the images making them easier to read. Similarly some pages are easier to read on Findmypast. If you cannot read an entry, try looking at the same example on a different website.

Ancestry.co.uk
Index and images for England and Wales, index-only for Scotland. Occupation indexed only for Scotland. Irish index links to National Archives of Ireland (NAI).
Census.nationalarchives.ie
Only records for some areas in Ireland survive. The site also has census search forms filled in by people claiming an Irish pension checked against the 1841 and 1851 census.
Familysearch
Basic index shared with Findmypast for England and Wales (the index is free but images are not included). Index and images for the small number of surviving Irish records from NAI (see above). Occupations not indexed.
Findmypast
Index and images for England and Wales, index-only for Scotland. Occupation indexed only for Scotland. Irish index to some NAI records. The British and Irish census records are available in all Findmypast subscription tiers.
Freecen
Great free index for England, Wales and Scotland. Good search options including occupation. No images. Not every county is complete yet.
ScotlandsPeople
Images and an index of Scottish census records.
TheGenealogist
Index and clear images of census records for both England and Wales. Occupation indexed.

When were the 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 census taken?

The 1851 census was taken 30 March 1851. .

The 1861 census was taken 7 April 1861.

The 1871 census was taken 2 April 1871.

The 1881 census was taken 3 April 1881.

The 1891 census was taken 5 April 1891.

The 1901 census was taken 31 March 1901.

What information can be found in UK census records 1851-1901?

The census records gradually became more detailed with every decade that passed. Marital statuses were given from 1851, as well as the relationship between each person and the head of the household. Ages also became more accurate as well as information about where someone was born.

Increasingly intrusive enquiries were made, asking in 1851 and 1861 if people were ‘blind or deaf-and-dumb’ and from 1871 whether anyone was deemed to be a ‘lunatic, imbecile or idiot’, by Victorian standards of course! Additional questions were asked about employment status from 1891, defining whether a person was self-employed ‘on their own account’, an employer, or employed by someone else.

Address – Street and house name or number were included in the census records. Enumerators also tried to include Gypsies and the homeless so ‘address’ might be ‘Under canal bridge’ or ‘Tents on common’. From 1861 uninhabited houses were also recorded.

Name – Full names for all occupants were given (although usually just initials for middle names). In some institutions, especially prisons, just initials for both first and last names were given.

Relation to head of household – Wife, son, dau (daughter) are the most common family ones but you may find extended family there as well as servants and lodgers. Institutions would have inmates, pupils, patients, staff etc

Condition – This recorded an inhabitants’ marital status: M or Mar for married, W or Wid for widow/er and S or sometimes U for unmarried.

Age – Unlike previous census records, ages were recorded accurately (or as accurately as the inhabitant knew or cared to give). There were two columns, one to record the ages of male inhabitants and one for female.

Rank, profession or occupation – Wives are often left blank even though they may have worked. Administrators recognised that the work of women was not being recorded and added a box in 1901 ‘If working at home’ to try and encourage a better record of female employment. Children attending school were marked as ‘Scholar’. From 1891 further columns were added asking if someone was an employer, an employee or neither.

Where born – More complete details were now required, including town or village and county. Those born abroad, including Ireland, only had to provide the name of the country.

Disabilities – In 1851 and 1861 the census asked if you were ‘Blind or Deaf and Dumb’. From 1871 two more categories were introduced: ‘Imbecile or idiot’ (changed to ‘Feeble-minded’ in 1901) or ‘Lunatic’.

Education – From 1861 onwards, Scotland administered its own census and could add its own questions. In 1861 and 1871 Scotland asked how many children between 5 and 15 were being educated at school or at home.

Housing condition – The 1861 to 1901 censuses in Scotland asked how many rooms had one or more windows. This was a reaction to concern about housing conditions. In 1891 and 1901 English and Welsh households had to say how many rooms they inhabited if it was less than five to assess the issue of overcrowding.

Language spoken – In 1881 the Scottish census asked whether the inhabitants spoke Gaelic or G&E (this was left blank if they did not speak Gaelic).  In 1891 a similar question was added to the Welsh census asking inhabitants if they spoke Welsh. It was not until 1901 that Welsh language schedules were provided for Welsh speakers.

Census records from 1861
Census records from 1861

Where can the 1851-1901 UK census records be found online?

Ancestry
Index and images for England and Wales, index-only for Scotland. Occupation indexed only for Scotland except for 1881 census.
Census.nationalarchives.ie
Only a small number of records for some areas in Ireland survive pre-1901. The site also has census search forms filled in by people claiming an Irish pension checked against the 1841 and 1851 census. The 1901 and 1911 census though is completely and freely available.
Familysearch
Basic index shared with Findmypast for England and Wales (the index is free but images are not included). Occupations not indexed. Also some Irish records for 1851 and an index to the Irish 1901 and 1911 census that links through to the National Archives of Ireland website above.
Findmypast
Index and images of census records for England and Wales, index-only for Scotland. Occupation indexed only for Scotland except for 1851 and 1881 census for England and Wales.
Freecen
Great free index for England, Wales and Scotland. Good search options including occupation. No images. Not every county is complete yet, especially for later decades.
ScotlandsPeople
Images and an index of Scottish census records from 1841 to 1911 on this pay-as-you-go website.
TheGenealogist
Index and images for both England and Wales. Occupation indexed.

When was the 1911 census taken?

The 1911 census was taken 2 April 1911. For the first time in 1911 for England and Wales we see the original forms completed in the householder’s own handwriting, rather than a transcribed copy from the enumerator’s book. John Underwood, a 47-year-old butcher from Hastings, admitted in the health conditions column that he was ‘bad-tempered’, his wife was ‘long-tongued’ and their five children were ‘quarrelsome’, ‘stubborn’, ‘greedy’, ‘vain’ and ‘noisy’! Notes like this may have been jokingly scribbled on earlier censuses but unfortunately the original forms no longer survive. In Scotland the household schedules were destroyed and the entries were transcribed into enumerators books, just as with previous censuses.
1911 census
John Underwood, a butcher from Hastings added ‘infirmities’ such as ‘greedy’ and ‘vain’ on his schedule
c. The National Archives

What information was included in the 1911 census?

The information included on the 1911 census records was similar to that on the 1901 census with one notable exception. To get a better understanding of fertility, population growth and infant mortality, questions were added relating to children born within a marriage. The married women were to state how many years the present marriage had lasted and how many children had been born alive to that marriage along with how many had died and how many were still alive.

As these questions were new, they confused some households who sometimes included children they had with previous marriages or children who had been born out of wedlock. Some people even enumerated their dead children, providing names and other details invaluable to family historians!

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Where can the 1911 census be found online?

Ancestry
Index and images for England and Wales. Also 1911 Irish census records can be searched from here.
Census.nationalarchives.ie
The 1911 Irish census records are freely available.
FamilySearch
Basic index shared with Findmypast for England and Wales (the index is free but images are not included). Also 1911 Irish census records can be searched from here and links through to the National Archives of Ireland website above.
Findmypast
Index and images for England and Wales. Also 1911 Irish census records can be searched from here.
ScotlandsPeople
The only place online where you can access an index and images of the 1911 Scottish census records. The Scottish images do not show household schedules as they do for England and Wales, just the entries copied into enumerators’ books.
TheGenealogist
Index and images of census records for both England and Wales. Occupation indexed.