The census is a survey taken by the government every 10
years to collect information on the population of the United Kingdom. From
1801 to 1831 the censuses were simply head counts with no personal
information on individuals recorded (except in exceptional cases). From
1841 personal information on individuals was recorded.
Census records are currently protected from public view
for 100 years, so the latest census available is the 1911 census.
Census records are invaluable in tracing your ancestors.
How to view census data depends on the country in which it was taken and
there are many records offices where you can get this information.
However, by far the easiest way to search for census information is to
become a member of www.Ancestry.co.uk
If you are a member of www.Ancestry.co.uk
you will have access to all census returns from 1841 to 1901 from the
whole of the UK.
You can get census information at most Family History
Societies, however the information here will be limited to the local area.
you have access to ALL census taken in the UK
The amount of information on the census varies but in
general the later the census, the more information it holds. Apart from
finding names to fit into your family tree, you can see how the population
moved around the country, usually looking for work. An example of this is
apparent in my area (South Yorkshire - formerly part of the West Riding)
where you will find people moving into this area as coal mines were
opened. People came from all over the country to work in the mines as
local jobs in farming etc. were becoming more scarce.
Also available of course are neighbours; boarders and
servants etc. (The source of many family history mysteries!) Always good
for a few juicy tid-bits!
The clues that you pick up from census records can lead
you into far greater depth. For example, you can find out what someone did
for a living, which can lead you to a new line of investigation in
employment records. It is certainly worth searching more widely that just
your direct ancestors - were there any other branches of the family living
nearby? What was the community in which they lived really like? Can you
make any judgments about their social status from the size of the house
and the occupations of their neighbours? Census returns open up a gateway
to the past, and allow you to extend the scope of your research.
My wife Carol and I used to spend much of our spare time
travelling around the country looking for information, until we were
introduced to www.Ancestry.co.uk
by a distant cousin of mine. We had steered clear of fee paying sites as
we believed they were just out to make money.
We took out a free trial initially with
to see for ourselves what it could offer. We were hooked from the first
day when we discovered the vast amount of information we could find with
just a few clicks of the mouse. Not just census information either. They
have many millions of records of all kinds - and so easy to find! -
Now we still have the occasional field trip but mainly to meet distant and
not so distant relatives that we have managed to find by using
We now have an annual subscription, which costs us around 1.50 per week. You can also get shorter subscriptions but we find the
annual subscription to be the best value.
Note: Since writing this article
millions more records have been added at Ancestry.co.uk including all the
available census records for England; Scotland and Wales. The British
Telephone Directory; 1st World War records and the latest news is that the
'Barbados' records are now online.