About the  Census
Events gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Events of 1901
The Changing Census, 1801-1901

A census of England and Wales, and a separate one of Scotland, has been taken every 10 years since 1801, except for 1941.

The census 1801-1831
The 1801 census, taken on 10 March, had a very different format from that of more modern censuses. Information was collected on a parish basis and there were no details on households. Forms for recording the information were distributed to each parish where the overseers of the poor, 'substantial landholders' and local clergy all had a responsibility to collect specific types of data. Once the statistics had been collected, they were sworn before the local Justice of the Peace and eventually sent to the Home Office. The results were then collated and laid before Parliament.

The 1801 census asked local officials to provide information on the number of inhabited and uninhabited houses in the parish and how many families occupied them; the number of people in the parish and their employment; and numbers of baptisms, burials and marriages. A similar format was followed for the censuses of 1811, 1821 and 1831, with the addition of further questions. In 1811, the enumerators were asked to give more information about the reasons houses were unoccupied, so that the prosperity of the district could be more accurately gauged. In 1821 a question relating to age was asked, in order to assess numbers of men able to bear arms, and to improve the tables on which life assurance was based. More detailed questions on occupations from 1831 provided the government with economic information.

The census 1841-1901

The census of 1841 was the first to record more detailed information. It is thus the earliest census generally used by family historians.

You can use the census 1841-1901 at the Family Records Centre in central London. Follow this link to www. link - opens in new window find out more.

In 1841 the full name, sex, age (rounded down to the nearest five, if aged over 15) and occupation of each person living in the household was recorded. In 1851, questions were added about the relationship of each individual to the head of the household and whether any member of the household was blind or dumb; also more detailed information on place of birth was recorded.

Census form, 1841 - link to an enlarged version
large file - may be slow to download (52k)

The 1851 census was also the first to record the numbers living on vessels in inland waters or at sea (including the Royal Navy and merchant navy), those serving abroad with the forces and with the East India Company, and British subjects residing overseas.Only minor changes to the census forms were made over the next 50 years. In 1871 people were asked whether any member of the household was an 'imbecile or idiot' or 'feeble-minded', a question that was retained until 1911. In 1871 and 1881, people were asked whether they were unemployed - a question not then repeated until 1931.From 1891, each member of the household was asked whether they were an employer or employee and in 1901 a question asking whether people were working at home was introduced.The only other change made in this period was the introduction of questions relating to languages spoken in Scotland (from 1881) and in Wales (from 1891).

Census form, 1901 - link to an enlarged version
large file - may be slow to download (64k)

Follow this link to use the www. link - opens in new window 1901 census online.

The Changing Census , 1911-2001 The Changing Census, 1801-1901 Why Take a Census? The 1901 Census