Census Genealogy

Census Genealogy

For Bwrrd October 2020.

When you go looking into your family’s history, then sooner or later you will need to examine a census return, it will give you a place and exact time where an ancestor was with a reasonable degree of certainty.

With that in mind here is an outline of the censuses of England and Wales.

The first known census of what is now England had been for William the Conqueror, becoming the Domesday Book in 1086. Over the next centuries there were various forms of census. However, attempts to take nationwide censuses were resisted until 1801 and thereafter there has been a census every ten years except 1941 superseded by WWII, but the need for identity cards resulted in the 1939 register of England and Wales.

 The 1801 census resulted from Government concerns about feeding the population, so what was recorded was numbers of people rather than their names to estimate the rate at which the population was growing or declining, what proportion was of working age etc. and then how to feed or manage the population, this persisted until 1831. Looking for names in these censuses will be a fruitless exercise.

The Population Act 1840 changed the nature of subsequent censuses. All households were given Schedules to record individual names with a warning that giving misleading information was fineable. A census enumerator would visit each household, ship or institution in an area allocated to them in a single day, and deliver the Schedule, returning on the Monday after the night of the census to collect and check the Schedules. These were then processed locally, then district wide, finally centrally in London for publication.

The census information available today is from these enumerators’ transcript books, the original schedules were destroyed except for the 1911 census in England and Wales.

Information available in the 1841 census:

  • Address
  • Surname and first name – (If, as happened in lodging-houses, hotels and inns, a person who slept there the night before went away early and the name was not known, “n.k.” was written where the name should have been.
  • Age – correct if 15 or under but rounded down to nearest five years if over 15.
  • Sex.
  • Profession, trade, employment or of independent means – Occupations were recorded as abbreviations, for instance Ag. Lab. (agricultural labourer), Coal M (coal miner) or H.L.W. (handloom weaver).
  • Born in the county of the census – Yes, No or Not Known.
  • Born on the island of the census – Yes, No or Not Known – for the Channel Islands and Isle of Man only.
  • Born in the country of the census (Yes or No, or sometimes S for Scotland, E for England and Wales, I for Ireland or F for Foreign Parts).

For the family historian there are problems with the 1841 Census. A few parishes are known to be missing from the records. The rounding issue in adult ages causes confusion and sometimes the householders or enumerators ignored the instruction to round down ages and inserted the actual age. In the 1841 census if an age ends in a 0 or a 5, its worth assuming a 5-year or more margin. A final note is that the writing is often very difficult to decipher in these documents and transcription is sometimes inaccurate.

From 1851 on, the head of household was asked to provide more information. The relationship to the head of the household was collected, correct ages noted and more birthplace detail. It’s important to be aware that not everyone listed at an address lived there, and not everyone who lived at an address was necessarily there on census night – this would include travellers and visitors. Data requested in all the 1851 to 1911 censuses was:

  • Address
  • Names -surname and first name, sometimes middle name or initial were given.
  • Age (exact).
  • Occupation.
  • Born (parish and county).
  • Born (country) – name of country given.
  • Relationship to head of household.
  • Condition as to marriage – married, single, widowed, widower.
  • Disability – ‘blind, or deaf-and-dumb’.
  • (From 1891 in the Welsh census, language spoken was added.)

As well as collecting the fundamental data, major changes occurred for the 1911 census. The Government had concerns about “fertility in marriage” so the years of marriage, numbers of children born, and living was recorded. Detailed occupational information was also taken.

An example, searching on a David Lloyd George in the 1911 census gives:

The postal address on the Schedule was 11 Downing Street, Westminster, D Lloyd George was signed on the return and the postal address 11 Marie Place, Dover., was written under the signature.

The residence had 24 rooms.

There were 8 persons living there, 3 males and 5 females.

These were:

1.David Lloyd George aged 48, Head of the household, Married , born Manchester, Lancashire, he was Chancellor of Exchequer, he did not report he was working at home, he was not born in a ‘Foreign country’ nor did he report any infirmities such as being “Totally Deaf”, “Deaf or Dumb”, “Totally Blind” “Lunatic” “Imbecile” or “Feeble Minded” (the actual words used in the 1911 census).

 2. Margaret Lloyd George aged 46, Wife of the Head of the household, Married for 23 years, 5 children born alive, 4 children still living, 1 had died, she listed no occupation, she was born in Criccieth, Caernarvonshire.

3. Richard Lloyd George aged 22, Son of the Head of the household, Single, he was a Civil Engineer, employed contracting, he was a worker not an employer, born Criccieth.

4. Megan Lloyd George aged 8, Daughter of the Head of the household, born Criccieth.

5. John Rowland aged 33, Private Secretary to the Head of the Household, he was Married (on the form he was noted as having been married 8 years, with 3 children born alive 2 living 1 having died, because this information was only to be entered for females this was crossed out on the original form, even the great and good make mistakes but useful family history), his occupation was Private Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was born in Tregaron.

6. Sarah Jones aged 39, Servant of the Head of the Household, Single, a Housemaid, born Criccieth.

7. Annie Jones aged 25, Servant of the Head of the Household, Single, a Parlourmaid, born Llanystumdwy (the transcription in a genealogy site reads – Slanysteymding! Beware of transcription!).

8. Lizzie Jane Jones aged 16, Servant of Head of Household, Single, a Kitchenmaid, born Fourcrosses, Caernarvonshire.

Copyright prevents showing the actual return, but it can be viewed at your local library or archive via their subscription to the various genealogy sites.

Looking at the original shows probably 2 people completed the form, including possibly, Lloyd George.

Ages and places of birth enable further searching. The number of years of marriage and wife’s first name will help to locate marriage records. From the marriage record you will probably find the father and occasionally the mother and then there’s the 1901 census…

One document 8 names, a myriad of information, will work for your ancestors too.

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