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

Possible Pitfalls in Using the Census

Many people don't realise that the census page images we see are actually transcripts of the household census forms, the details were copied into the books by the enumerators. This provides several opportunities for mistakes to occur, firstly as they tried to decipher the writing on the household forms, which were later destroyed.

Illiterate or barely literate ancestors may not have understood the form or even know with any accuracy the answer to the questions. They may have been suspicious of this government prying into their affairs and been less than honest in their answers. Just as today, a certain percentage manage to avoid being included, either deliberately or accidentally.

With the possibility of errors and misinformation creeping in from the very outset, you should always use your own judgment when assessing the information from the census, it may be completely accurate, but you will often find discrepancies.

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."

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.

Enoch Arnold Bennett in the 1871 Census

Novelist Enoch Arnold Bennett was born in the Potteries, Staffordshire. The Potteries were a group of six towns (later to become Stoke-on-Trent) and Bennett used his experiences in these places as influence for his writings.

His father changed career from pawnbroker and clother to soliciter, and he is believed to have encouraged Arnold (as he was known) to follow in this footsteps, but Arnold moved to London and started writing for magazines. His first book was published in 1898 and A Man From the North earned him enough income to start writing full time. He went on to write 30 novels, and numerous non-fiction works.

Bennett's writing style was often criticised as being weak, but he was not shy to admit that he wrote for an income as well as pleasure, which may have upset come of his contemporaries. His most successful works included Anna of the Five Towns, The Old Wives' Tale, and Clayhanger. Several of his books were adapted for the screen.

The 1871 Staffordshire census shows Enoch A Bennett at the age of three, living with his family and servants in Shelton (RG10/2866 page 113).

The 1871 Census for Staffordshire is available on CD from British Data Archive.