National censuses have been undertaken in most parts of the British Isles every ten years from 1801, in Ireland from 1821, (apart from 1941). In fact there have been very many lists of names of individuals compiled for one reason or another throughout the British Isles since 1086.
There was no requirement for the information from the ten-yearly censuses to be centrally collected or collated until 1841; thus the survival and whereabouts of earlier returns varies considerably.
The censuses for England and Wales from 1841 onwards, taken household by household, by houses, by streets and by registration districts, are now the responsibility of the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys (OPCS). The returns are available for public perusal after 100 years.
The enumerators' original returns have been microfilmed and are available in a variety of locations.
No indexes of names were ever officially required or made. This makes searching for individuals an extremely long and difficult task, even when an approximate address is known.
Fortunately, many county and local family history societies have indexed the 1851 census returns for their areas and a national project to index the 1881 census has been completed.
The information requested in 1841 for England and Wales was the full name of householders and other individuals in that household, and their ages to the nearest five years, rounded downwards; so a person of 34 is listed as 30 while someone of 36 as 35. Under 15 years old the actual age is usually given. Also requested were occupations and if born in the same county as the present address, indicated by Y (yes) or N (no).
The 1851 and later returns hold more useful information for family history. Individuals are listed by household and also their relationship to the head of the household is given. Their actual ages are shown (or at least the age as given to the enumerator!) and their occupations. Most importantly, they were asked where they were born.
These are the actual dates that the censuses were taken:
1801 10th March (Monday), 1811 27th May (Monday), 1821 28th May (Monday)
1831 30th May (Monday), 1841 6th June (Sunday), 1851 30th March (Sunday)
1861 7th April (Sunday), 1871 2nd April (Sunday), 1881 3rd April (Sunday
1891 5th April (Sunday), 1901 31st March (Sunday).
This page last updated 28th August 2000