INTRODUCTORY LEVEL: National Census Records of Great Britain and Ireland. - Things Worth Knowing! :: Genealogy
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INTRODUCTORY LEVEL: National Census Records of Great Britain and Ireland. - Things Worth Knowing!

Article by colmt


One of the best resources for general information about ancestors online are the British and Irish National Census Archives. These records contain the following information.


The names of all the people in the house on the night of the census, the sex of each person, the relationship of each person recorded to each other i.e. Head of house, wife, son, daughter, adopted or boarder. The records also reveal the age and occupation of each person listed, together with their place (or county) of birth and the address of the house being surveyed.


What isn't contained in the Census records unfortunately, is the maiden name of the female spouse - the wife of the hosuehold. Given that her age is listed - it's a matter of simple mathematics to work out the wife's Date of Birth however which is of some help when searching for her birth certificate subsequently.

The second thing to watch out for is the fact that secondary marital relationships are not recorded. That is to say, each household can only have one 'Head of Household' if a married son or daughter is living with their spouse in their parents house the 'Head/Wife' relationship will not be recorded for them. A handy way of spotting such a relationship however is as follows:

Depending on the age of the people involved when you see the Transcript of a Census Household record that lists someone of the same surname as that of the household with the relationship 'boarder' this may indicate that that person is the husband or wife of either a daughter or son of the household and not a lodger in the strict sense of the word. Census enumerators were limited in their choices when it came to the relationships which existed amongst the members of the household.



Census Available Online for Britain date from 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. The reason why census information for 1921 on isn't available online is that these records remain under the management of the Registrar General and can by law only be released for general consumption 100 years after the date of the census. There was no census in 1941 in Britain because of the World War II.

Many online genealogy websites provide online transcripts and original images of all available British Census records at a cost.


The Census records in Ireland on the other-hand, both transcripts and original images are available free of charge from the Irish National Archives Offices Online. ( Unfortunately the first national census of Ireland was carried out in 1901 and because of the 100 year privacy rule, only 1901 and 1911 are currently available. There was no Census carried out in Ireland in 1921 due to the Irish Civil War made it too dangerous for enumerators.

Hope this is some help to those searching for ancestral relatives in Britain and Ireland!

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by colmt Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2011-06-24 10:03:30

colmt has been a Family Tree Circles member since Jun 2011. is researching the following names: REDDY, LOFTHOUSE, COWLEY and 5 other(s).

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by dj_webb18 on 2011-09-22 20:06:13

Good article colmt, hope you don't mind me adding a few things.

In working out what a spouse's maiden name was partly by using her age on the census it's worth bearing in mind that victorian women were often somewhat coy about their exact age so it may not always be reliable, in my research I have known some women who have only aged by a year or two between two censuses and even one or two who got younger from one census to the next! And the men can get up to the same trick too, particularly when they leave their wive and start again with a younger woman (or 2nd wife) and drop a few years off to try and hide the age difference a bit. Also bear in mind that in the first census of 1841 all ages of adults are rounded to multiples of 5 years, which can cause real headaches if, like me, it takes you years to realise this, then you have to revisit reassess all the pre-1850s parts of your tree. Another pitfall in the 1841 census is that birthplaces are not given, just a yes or no (or more likely just a Y or N) in the column entitled 'born in county?', but often the letter's Y and N can look very similar in the enumerator's handwriting and can get misread and mistrancribed on the major sites, so it's worth taking a look at the original record to be certain.
And I think I'm right in saying that sadly the 1931 census was near enough bombed out of existence during the blitz in WWII (I think I recall reading that it only ended up in the firing line so to speak because the government had moved it to try and keep it safe, but I may be wrong on that bit) so that after 1921 is released in spring 2021 we will then have to wait 30 years for another new census release.

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