Census Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is a census?

A. A census is a complete population count for a given area or place taken on a specific date. The 1841 census is considered to be the first modern UK census.

Q. What information can I find in the census?

A. Details vary for each census return, with the 1911 census being the most detailed. You can see what's included on UK Census Online in the table below:

1841 Census 1851 Census 1861 Census 1871 Census 1881 Census 1891 Census 1901 Census 1911 Census
Name Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Age Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Sex Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Occupation Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Address Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Place of Birth Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Relation to head Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Marital status Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick
Employment status Tick Tick Tick
Nationality Tick
Duration of current marriage Tick
No. of children that were born Tick
No. of children that are living Tick
No. of children that died Tick

UK Census - Today's Facts

The Census - What information can I find in each year?

A census was taken every 10 years from 1810 but, the census taken between 1810 and 1831 were of little use to genealogists since they recorded only the numbers in each household. From 1841 the census is of use.

The census was taken from midnight on Sunday/Monday as follows:
1841 Census - 6 & 7th June
1851 Census - 30 & 31st March
1861 Census - 7 & 8th April
1871 Census - 2 & 3rd April
1881 Census - 3 & 4th April
1891 Census - 5 & 6th April
1901 Census - 31st March & 1st April
1911 Census - 2nd & 3rd April

Details recorded in the 1841 Census:
- Address (vague)
- Names
- Age: (a) 15 and under exact age, (b) over 15 recorded to the lowest 5 years e.g. someone age 56, 57, 58 or 59 would be recorded as 55.
- Occupation of each individual
- Whether born in this country - recorded as Yes/Y or country of birth

Details recorded in the 1851 - 1901 Census:
- Road, street, number or name of house
- Whether the house is inhabited or not
- Name and surname of each person
- Relationship to head of house
- Married/Unmarried
- Age last birthday
- Profession
- Whether employed or not
- Place of birth
- Whether blind/insane/feeble minded
- Details about whether the house was being built (1901 Census ONLY)
- If the individual was working at home (1901 Census ONLY)

Details recorded in the 1911 Census:
- Forename & Surname
- Age
- Sex
- Occupation
- Address
- Town/county of birth
- Relation to head of household
- Marital status
- Medical disabilities
- Employment status
- Nationality
- Duration of current marriage
- Number of children born within that marriage
- Number of living children
- Number of any children who have died

It is possible to obtain more recent information from the census. You will need to provide the exact address and name, give your reason for requiring the information, prove you're a descendant and if anyone on the record is still alive, get their permission to obtain the data.

The Bronte Sisters in the Yorkshire 1841 Census

The three Bronte sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - grew up with their brother Branwell in Parsonage House in Haworth, Yorkshire. Their childhood was blighted by the deaths of their mother from cancer, and their elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, from tuberculosis.

Their father Reverend Patrick Bronte was understandably a somewhat melancholy character, and the children depended on writing stories to entertain themselves. Creating sophisticated sagas about imaginary countries and kingdoms, they developed literary skills which they took with them into adulthood.

Parsonage House - The home of the Brontes
Parsonage House famously stands within an area of expansive moorland, which they were allowed to roam on as children, and which would have given their imaginations free rein. The harsh landscape formed the inspiration for the windswept, treacherous moors immortalised in Emily's most famous work, Wuthering Heights.

All three worked occasionally as governesses, and in 1841 we can see that Charlotte is working away in this capacity whilst Emily and Anne remain at home. They all disliked the job, and Charlotte and Anne both wrote novels (Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey) which describe its perils, and the general pressures on women of their social standing during this period. They could marry, find work as a governess or servant, or remain with their families- but couldn't easily achieve a meaningful independence.

Their writing allowed them to explore and document this situation. Ironically, due to the restrictions of the time, their poetry and novels were published under the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell - three brothers rather than sisters.

Their works are very different, but share common strengths of innovation and vision, particularly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, which both received a decidedly lukewarm reception on their initial publication, but are now hailed as classics.

All three are to be found on the 1841 census, but Emily died of tuberculosis in 1848 and Anne of an unknown illness a year later, and only Charlotte appears, back in Haworth, in 1851. She died in 1855, having revealed her true identity as the author of Jane Eyre only a few years previously.

With that information in hand, I set out to look for their census records in the Yorkshire 1841 & 1851 Census CD sets purchased from British Data Archive.

I looked up Charlotte Bronte on www.TheGenealogist.co.uk by doing a search under the 1841 Yorkshire census transcripts, and immediately found her. I decided to view an image of the census record and found her to be living at Upper Road House. The search results informed me that I could also find this record on the CD set (CD 28, HO107 / 1313 / 7, folio 13).

After my success with Charlotte, I decided to tackle the other two sisters, Emily and Anne. I searched for Emily first, again on www.TheGenealogist.co.uk, loaded up the census image, and found her living at Parsonage House with her sister Anne and their father Patrick. The search results showed me that I could also find this record on the CD set (CD21, HO107/1295/6/, Folio 41).

The Difference between a Name Index and a Transcript

The difference between a name index and a transcript is that in a transcript, all the useful fields have been transferred to the database and are available to search, not just the names and ages like in an index.

Transcripts are more useful as finding aids than the simpler name indexes, as they give you more parameters to combine in your search. Transcripts also offer a useful advantage to users without Broadband who find that services based heavily on image downloads too slow to use. They minimise the number of pages you have to download and view to find the correct entry, but you should still check the original page image to confirm the accuracy of the transcript for yourself.

Case Study - Sir Frank Whittle

Sir Frank Whittle (1907 - 1996) was a Royal Air Force officer who invented the Jet engine.

He was only 21 when he first mentioned the idea of turbo-jet propulsion to his employers, the Air Ministry. He patented the idea in 1930, but had to let the patent drop as he did not have sufficient funds for its renewal.

In 1934 he arrived in Cambridge and completed his degree in only two years, gaining a first. During his time at Cambridge he was still engrossed in his idea of jet travel. He was immensely encouraged by his tutor at Cambridge and by Melvill Jones the Head of Aeronautical Engineering. Fortunately, as his time at Cambridge was coming to an end, three of his colleagues, retired RAF pilots, suggested setting up a development company. Thus Power Jets was formed.

"Finding Frank Whittle's birth record was simple. I began by doing a BMD Image Search in Birth Records, using TheGenealogist.co.uk website. I knew Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907, so I set the year range to 1907. I then typed in his forename and surname, and clicked search.

However, I did not know which month he was born in, so searched through the images until I found him.

I found him in the April - June birth records, and a closer look reveals that he was born in Coventry, and the volume number and volume page number are given which can be used for ordering a certificate."