Census Records - United Kingdom

Census returns for England and Wales are subject to a 100-year non- disclosure rule. Copies of census returns are available for public inspection for the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 only. Not all census returns have survived, there are some original census enumerators books missing or damaged beyond repair and have not been microfilmed.

The householder was to complete their individual household schedules recording who was in their household during the period Sunday night to Monday morning. On the morning after census night, the census enumerators collected the household schedules. If these were not completed properly, the census enumerator was supposed to ask for extra details at the doorstep, although there is considerable evidence that this was not done uniformly. If the householder was unable to fill in the schedule, perhaps because he or she was illiterate, the census enumerator was to fill it in for them. In 1871, the majority of some Welsh-speaking parishes in Anglesey were filled in by the enumerators.

These individual household schedules were then transcribed into the census enumerators' books, together with statistical information, and it is from these books that copies of the census returns can be obtained.

A considerable number of people were not in normal households on census night and special arrangements had to be made for their enumeration. These people included the inmates of institutions, the crews of vessels afloat, the army, itinerants and travellers, and night workers


The master or keeper of every public or charitable institution was to act as the enumerator of the inmates thereof. These institutions were defined as every gaol, prison, penitentiary, house of correction, hulk or prison ship, workhouse, almshouse, hospital, infirmary, asylum, madhouse, public school, endowed school, college, barrack, and 'other public or charitable institution'. Institutions not subject to these special arrangements were treated as if they were households by the normal enumerators.

The institutional books are usually associated with the areas in which they stood. In 1841 they can usually be found at the end of the household returns for the place concerned, or at the end of the returns for the hundred in which they lay. In later years they can be found at the end of the returns for the relevant place, or for the registration district. The returns have also been microfilmed in this order. Indexes held at the Family Records Centre will give the appropriate census piece number.

From 1851 onwards the information on the residents of the institution should have been entered in a set order. First, the master or head of the institution, and then his or her spouse, children, other relatives, and servants. Then the officers, their families and servants, visitors and so on. The inmates should then be enumerated in their turn. It is almost impossible to reconstruct the possible relationships between inmates within institutions since only their status within the institution is given. In 1861 it is even difficult to identify inmates by name since only initials needed to be returned.

Army Stationed in England & Wales

Soldiers in barracks in England and Wales were always enumerated in the same manner as the inmates of other institutions. Small barracks were treated as private households to be enurnerated by the ordinary enumerator. Barracks large enough to be treated separately were returned in institutional books by the resident barrack or quarter master. The position of barrack returns in the records is similar to that of other institutions.

Army Stationed Abroad

Members of the British Army stationed abroad were never fully enumerated, instead the military authorities provided the Census Office with information as to the numbers of officers, other ranks, wives and children, either by place or by regiment.

Royal Navy

Members of the Royal Navy ashore in England and Wales on census night were always recorded in the usual household and institutional returns.

The returns made for naval vessels in 1841 and 1851 do not appear to have survived. In 1861 the returns for such vessels in both home and foreign waters can be found at the end of the record class, with those for the merchant marine. Thereafter only the returns of naval vessels at sea or in foreign waters were placed at the end of the record class. The schedules for those in British ports can usually be found at the end of the household returns for the registration district in which the port lay.

From 1861 onwards, special naval schedules were used to record the names and relevant details of the officers and crew. The naval schedules of 1861 to 1881 contain columns for name and surname, rank or rating ('quality' in 1861), condition, age, and birthplace. These returns relate to passengers as well as to servicemen. The schedules of 1891 and 1901 contain columns for name and surname, relation to vessel (member of the crew, etc.), condition as to marriage, age last birthday, profession or occupation, whether employer, employee or self- employed (for passengers only), birthplace, and medical disabilities.

Merchant Navy

The enumeration of the merchant marine was not done on one day but was spread over a period of time. This period varied from census to census. Nor were all merchant vessels, or those on board them, treated in the same manner.

No schedules appear to have been issued in 1841. Shipping schedules were issued in 1851 but very few appear to have survived. The 1861 schedules can be found at the end of the household returns with those for the Royal Navy. In 1871, 1881 and 1891 the shipping returns are usually at the end of the household returns for the place or port to which the ships were nearest on census night, or at which they delivered their schedules.

Throughout the period 1841-91 the crew and passengers of merchant vessels of whatever nationality who were on shore on census night were treated as other land dwellers and enumerated in the household returns. The enumeration of the crews and passengers of merchant ships who were on board ships on census night was far more complex.

On 15 March 1851 the customs officers gave a ship's schedule to the master of every British ship in port. They also gave one to the master of every British ship which arrived at the port unprovided with a schedule from that day until census day, 30 March. Early on the morning of 31 March, the customs officers collected the returns filled up by the masters of the ships in port on that day. Ships engaged in the home trade which were at sea on census night were supplied, either before their departure or on their return, with ships' schedules, which were collected as the vessels arrived in British ports from 31 March to the last day of April. On the last day of April the ships' schedules collected were sent direct to the Census Office in London.

The 1851 ship's schedule was, with minor changes, used throughout the nineteenth century, the only major additions being extra columns to bring the information sought into line with the household schedules. On the front of the schedule the master of the ship was to indicate the port to which the ship belonged, its name, its registration number and date of registration, its tonnage, whether it was employed in the home trade, conveying passengers or fishing, the name of the master, and the number of his master's certificate. He was also to record the date and port at which he received the schedule, the position of the ship at midnight on 30 March 1851, and the port at which he delivered the schedule. Inside, the master was to indicate the names of the passengers and crew the number of the master or mate's certificate, the number of the register ticket, if people were members of the crew ('C'), passengers ('P') or visitors ('V'), their condition as to marriage, their sex ('M' or 'F'), their age last birthday their rank, profession or occupation, their birthplace, and the usual medical disabilities. In later censuses a box was also provided in which the master inserted the number of persons from the vessel on shore on census night. In 1901 their names and full census details had to be given. Information on whether the vessel was powered by steam or sails was sought from 1891.

In 1861, a ship's schedule similar to that of 1851, was given by the customs officers to the master of every British foreign going, home-trade and coasting ship or vessel in port on 25 March, or which arrived between that day and census day, 7 April. These were to be collected on 8 April. On the arrival in port of any British hometrade or coasting vessel between that day and 7 May, the master was to be asked if he had handed in his census return at any UK port. If not he was requested to fill up a ship's schedule and to hand it to the customs officer. Another schedule was used by the customs officers to record the number of persons who slept on board ships of foreign nations or British colonies on census night, distinguishing between foreigners and British subjects, and by sex. This was done by the enumerators who went on board such ships on 8 April.

The arrangements in 1871 were slightly different. Ships schedules were to be delivered to all British and foreign vessels which arrived in port from 25 March until census day on 2 April. These were collected in port on 3 April. Further forms were only to be handed to British vessels in the coasting and home trade which arrived in port from that day until 2 May. Thus, foreign vessels in port on census day were fully enumerated for the first time. This process was repeated in 1881, the respective periods being 26 March to 3 April, and 4 April to 3 May.

The system of enumeration changed once more in 1891. Ships' schedules were to be left on board all vessels, whether British, foreign or colonial, which were in port on 30 March, or which arrived up until 5 April, census day. Such schedules were also to be given to every British vessel and every foreign vessel 'employed in the coasting trade of the United Kingdom' arriving between 6 April and 30 June. All vessels in port on census day were now fully enumerated, as were all British vessels, and foreign vessels engaged in the UK coasting trade, which arrived in port in the period up to the end of June.

The instructions for 1901 were similar to those of the previous decade, the two periods now running from 23 to 31 March, and from 1 April to 30 June.

Fishing Vessels

As with other shipping, no attempt was made to enumerate fishing vessels in 1841. The surviving accounts of the 1851 census are not detailed enough to reconstruct the position in that year. The 1851 ship's schedule, how- ever, asked the master to state if his ship was employed in the home trade, conveying passengers, or fishing. Fishing vessels may, therefore, have been treated in the same manner as other vessels.

In 1861 fishing vessels were to be given ships' schedules if they were in port on 4 April, or arrived between then and census day 7 April. But whereas all British coasting and home-trade vessels arriving up until 7 May were also to be given a schedule, only fishing vessels arriving up until 20 April were to be so treated. Fishing vessels were handled in a similar manner in 1871 and 1881, except that in the period before census night they were now treated in a similar manner to other vessels. Whilst other British vessess arriving in port after census night were given ships' schedules from 3 April to 2 May in 1871, and from 4 April to 3 May in 1881, fishing vessels only received them up until 14 and 15 April respectively. In 1891 and 1901, however, British fishing vessels, and 'every fishing boat of foreign nationality which brings fish regularly to ports of the UK', were to be treated in the same manner as other vessels. This simplification of procedures corresponds to that for the enumeration of other vessels in this period.

The distribution amongst the household returns of the ships' schedules for fishing vessels is similar to that for other shipping.

Vessels Engaged in Inland Navigation

Persons on vessels engaged in inland navigation which came into the areas of ports and harbours under the jurisdiction of the customs officers, were treated by them in the same manner as fishing vessels. The only exception to this was in 1851, when the customs officers merely forwarded to London the vessel's name, description and port where returned, as well as the number of males and females on board.

The population of vessels on canals and inland navigable waters was treated in a rather different manner. No attempt appears to have been made to make a nominal enumeration of these vessels in 1841 and 1851. Enumerators were merely asked to calculate the numbers of males and females on such vessels and insert this figure in one of their preliminary tables. In 1841 application was also made to the canal companies to provide an estimate of the number of such people.

From 1861 onwards some attempt was made to enumerate this floating population, and a calculation of the number of such persons was no longer supplied by the enumerators. The arrangements for 1861 were extremely ad hoc. The registrar was to enumerate vessels within his sub-district 'according to the circumstances of each case'. He was advised to find where such vessels might be moored from the owners or managers of wharves, or the canal companies, and then to employ a 'trustworthy person' to visit them on census morning to obtain the necessary nominal information using the standard ship's schedule of that year. These returns can now be found at the end of the household returns for the enumeration district, or registration sub-district, in which the vessel lay on census night.

From 1871 onwards it became the responsibility of the enumerators to enumerate such vessels. They handed the person in charge of the vessel a ship's schedule, and collected them when completed. The information they contained was then entered into their enumerators' books at the end of the household entries. From 1881 this applied not only to vessels which had been given schedules prior to census day but also to barges and the like which appeared in the enumeration district on that day.

Itinerants and Travellers

People travelling, especially those 'on the tramp', slipped through the census net because they were not resident as part of a household on census night. In the nineteenth century many people moved about the country looking for work according to the seasons or the social calendar. The censuses of this period were usually taken in March or early April, in order to avoid the movements of population associated with the agricultural harvest. In many areas, however, there may have been itinerants sleeping rough at census time.

In 1841 no special arrangements ere made to include the itinerant population in the nominal returns. This was a serious omission since the census of that year was taken in June when the movement of itinerants during the summer was already under way. The enumerators were instructed to insert in one of their summary tables the number of persons sleeping in barns, sheds, tents or in the open air,'or who from any other cause, although within the District, have not been enumerated as inmates of any dwellinghouse.' In order to get some idea of the numbers travelling at night by railway, canal and coach, inquiries were made with the railway and canal companies, and with 'Mr Horne of the Golden Cross, Charing Cross'.

In 1851 those sleeping in barns, sheds, tents, and in the open air, were treated as in the previous census. The enumerators were instructed that persons travelling by railway or coach were to be returned at the house or hotel at which they stopped, or took up their residence, on the morning after census night. This became the standard instruction to enumerators and householders for the rest of the century.

In 1861 the number of those in barns, sheds, tents, and in the open air, was no longer explicitly given in one of the preliminary tables. On the other hand, as full particulars as possible of such people were now to be given in the main body of the returns. This information was to be given at the end of the household schedules under a heading 'List of persons not in houses'.

From 1871 onwards particulars regarding such persons should have been entered in their proper place in the roads, lanes or outhouses in which they slept. Such barns, sheds, tents, and so on were not, however, to be reckoned as houses.

Night Workers

The census was based upon the principle that the householder should record the people who slept in his or her house on census night. In 1841 no special arrangements appear to have been made for those away from home on night shifts. From 1851 onwards, however, night workers were to be enumerated in their homes if they returned there the next day