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The UK Census Returns


1801 10th March Population stats only
1811 27th May Population stats only
1821 28th May Occupational qualification
1831 30th May Population and Profession stats only
1841 6/7th June Midnight, Sun/Mon
1851 30/31st Mar Midnight, Sun/Mon
1861 7/8th April Midnight, Sun/Mon
1871 2/3rd April Midnight, Sun/Mon
1881 3/4th April Midnight, Sun/Mon
1891 5/6th April Midnight, Sun/Mon
1901 31st March Midnight, Sun/Mon
1911 2/3rd April Midnight, Sun/Mon
1921 19/20th June Midnight, Sun/Mon
1931 26/27th April Midnight, Sun/Mon (Destroyed in W.W. II)
1941 There was no Census taken in 1941

The UK Census History

The first Census in England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man was taken on the 10th March 1801. Subsequently the Census was taken every ten years, except 1941. The records for 1931 were destroyed during the subsequent War. The first four Census are of statistical interest only on a whole, although some notes survive which are of interest to the family historian in some areas. As today the enumerator would deliver the form to the household, which they would later collect, check and enter into their printed book of forms. The literate members of the community could help the illiterate. There is clearly the possibility of errors to be made. 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 in the previous 100 years.

A similar format was followed for the censuses of 1811, 1821 and 1831, with the addition of further questions. Most of the early returns for 1801-1831 were destroyed, only statistical summaries being published. Those few returns that survive are now usually in the local County Record Office. The returns usually only name the householder and list the number of people in the house, although occasionally the whole population is listed.

The 1831 Census was the fourth national census to be undertaken in Great Britain. Like the three earlier ones it was done by the overseers of the poor in England and Wales, and schoolmasters in Scotland. Although the amount of information collected in this census was far less than was to be collected in later ones, that of 1831 was the first in which detailed occupational statistics were collected on the employment of males aged 20 and over. The census was also the first in which detailed instructions were given to the enumerators on how they were to count the population.

For the first time the householder would have to supply the name of the place, the full names of everyone in the house, their age correct up to 15yrs, but after reduced to nearest 5yrs, meaning any one aged from 15 - 19 years was rounded down to 15 years. Anyone from 20 to 24 years was rounded down to 20 years and so on, their gender, their profession, trade, employment or state if of independent means and if born in the County, Scotland, Ireland or Foreign parts. The enumerator also entered the information for end of household and/or end of building.

1851- 1901
The householder would have to supply more information from here on, which is of great benefit to the family historian. These entries contain the number in the schedule, name of the street, place or road name, name or number of the house, name or surname of person resident in the house on midnight of that date, relationship to head of family, (servants, lodgers, visitors also), marital condition, exact age, gender, rank or profession or occupation, where born with exact place of birth and if blind, deaf or dumb, and later if an idiot or lunatic. The last set of information requires accurate copying by the Census enumerators, and be aware that sometimes relatives in the Census noted as being Deaf etc may not have been, the entry could have been for the person above or below as there were lots of crossings out and corrections on some pages!

Document References

The three components of the Census reference numbers are:

The first part relates to the government department which transferred the document, for the Census it is HO 107 (Home Office) for 1841 and 1851 and RG (Registrar General) for all other years.

The second part is a class number, since each group of documents is subdivided into classes relating to different types of documents all being transferred from the same source.

RG 1-3 Indexes of BMD registers held by the Office of National Statistics
RG 4 Nonconformist registers (gathered in 1837)
RG 5 Certificates of Dr. Williams' library
RG 6 Quaker registers
RG 7 Fleet marriage registers
RG 8 Unauthenticated Nonconformist registers (gathered in 1857)
RG 9 1861 census returns
RG 10 1871 census returns
RG 11 1881 census returns
RG 12 1891 census returns
RG 13 1901 census returns
RG 18 Reference maps of registrar's districts
RG 19 Correspondence and papers
RG 27 Specimens of forms and documents
RG 30 Reports and population abstracts

The third part of the reference is what is known as a piece number. This is simply an archival term for an individual item which may take many shapes and forms, but which when relating to the census means an enumerator's folder or in 1841 and 1851 a box of these folders. To complete a reference you need to add the particular folio number and the page number. Before the original returns were microfilmed folio numbers were stamped on the top right-hand corner of every other page. The rule is that a page without a folio number is a continuation of the folio from the preceding page. Therefore, that page bears the same folio number when quoted for reference. Terms used are recto (first side or right side) and verso (reverse side). In some census indices the folios recto and verso leaves have been designated as: A to signify the recto of the folio leaf; and, B to signify the verso of the folio leaf. The page number is printed on the top of each page and is preceded with the word page, except in 1841 and 1851 when only the number was shown.

Also on the 1841 census there is a book number which is shown after the piece number, an example of the 1841 census reference number is: HO 107/490/1 = Maidstone book 1

The 1911 Census records are arranged in two different series: bound volumes of Census Schedules (RG 14) and Enumerators' Summary Books (RG 78). Each Enumerator Summary Book has a corresponding set of Schedules. The link between the two sets of documents is through a unique three-part reference number which reflects the arrangement of the records:

Registration District Number (RD)
Registration Sub-District Number (RS)
Enumeration District Number (ED)

These numbers are written on the front of the Enumerator's Summary Book and on the spine of the corresponding bound volume of Schedules. Each unique reference number corresponds to a distinct piece reference in the series. For example, RD 444 RS 4 ED 7.

The Enumeration District information is arranged into three sections:

1. Local sub-divisions
(Civil Parish, Ecclesiastical Parish, Borough or Urban District, Ward of Borough or Urban District, Rural District and Parliamentary Borough or Division)
2. Boundary
3. Contents (for example, a list of the streets)

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All the information here should only be used as a guideline and must not be relied on as primary evidence.