Background: What is a Census? A census is a survey that contains a specific set of questions to find out and record information about members of the population. It is unique because it covers everyone at the same time and asks the same basic questions to all. Since 1801 and every ten years since (except during the war years) the government has set aside one day for holding a ‘census’. The last census was held in March 2011.
Unfortunately, most of the early returns for 1801-1831 were destroyed and only statistical summaries were published. The census material that is available today and that family historians find most useful in the UK are the census returns from 1841-1911.
The census will show where your ancestor was living, who else was living in the household, occupation (job) and from 1851 the family connections the householders had to each other, whether they were married or single and place of birth. All of these can assist you when trying to put together your family tree.
Note: Because of UK privacy laws we are unable to view census material earlier than the last 100 years. The latest census that we are currently able to view is 1911.
Challenge: Let’s look at the census in relation to your family! Can you select a member of your family and try to trace them through the various census returns in the same manner as the Silver Census challenge about Florence Nightingale? Print out any census enumerations that you find or write out the information onto a blank form which can be found here
Don’t worry if you cannot find your ancestors in all of the census enumerations. This could be because of a number of reasons:
• their names may have been spelt
incorrectly by the enumerator
Also, keep in mind, your ancestors may not be where you expect to find them. If someone’s missing from home or place where you believe them to be living, they could perhaps be found in an entirely different location. You might find them:
• in a boarding school
Depending on what you find out, it may mean that you will need to look and study the records more carefully and/or try using a different set of records.
How do I do this: It is best to start your search of the census by working back in time - so if possible start with the 1911 census (or the first census that your ancestor will appear in based on their birthdate) to begin your search.
Suggested places to find this information: Online census materials can be found on the following websites. You can access Ancestry and Findmypast free at Manchester Central Library or most local studies libraries.
Other suggested resources and useful