Census records are the lifeblood of family history - it's hard to imagine getting started without them. These crucial documents provide a snapshot of your family's domestic life every ten years, listing everybody in the house, and providing details such as their ages, birthplaces, occupations and relationships.
Census records are the perfect way to take your first trip into your ancestors' historical world. They list everybody who was in each household on census day, so you can quickly and easily add more names to your family tree. Plus, they provide fascinating details such as occupations and relationships, which let you build a vivid picture of what your relatives' lives were like through the ages.
Because a census was taken every ten years, you can often trace ancestors from record to record, tracking key changes in their lives. Here's how to make the most of our collections:
It's usually easiest to start with our most recent complete census. You only need to know your forebear's name, but it will help us find the right record if you can at least guess at a 'Birth Year' and 'Lived In Location'.
When you find the right person, click on 'View Image' to see the historical record. Alongside fascinating details such as their address and occupation, you'll notice that everyone else in the household is listed. Scan the names to see who else you may be related to.
Anyone who was aged over 10 in 1901 will probably also be in the 1891 Census. If you've found young adults, try searching for them as children 10 years earlier. They'll probably be living with their parents, giving you another generation for your family tree.
Repeat the process all the way back to 1841. As you go, you'll add dozens of names to your family tree, and gain a real understanding of how their individual lives – and the family group as a whole – changed over time.
You can make your census search even easier by starting a FREE family tree with us. As you add your best guesses of names and dates for your ancestors, we'll automatically search for them in our records, and give you helpful Hints to get you started.
As the national censuses have developed over time, people have been asked for more information about their lives. So, while the general idea behind the records remains the same, the specific details that you can pick out about your ancestors change through the decades.
This is the first UK census that lists your ancestors by name. It tells you their addresses and whether they were born in the country they were living in. You'll also find approximate ages, rounded down to the nearest five years.View Example
There were several important changes for this census, giving you more crucial details about your forebears' lives. You'll find their correct ages, plus birthplaces, occupations and relationships to the head of the house (such as son, daughter or spouse). You can also discover if an ancestor was blind, deaf or dumb.View Example
The details in this record are very similar to the 1851 Census - although obviously they show a changing population. The only question that was added for each person was their marital status. You can also see whether or not each house was inhabited.View Example
This census builds on the added detail from 1861. The only extra column concerns your forebears' health, as they were asked to note down any serious medical conditions.View Example
The 1881 Census provides the same comprehensive details as 1871. We offer this census as a free index, which means anyone can search for their relatives and see transcriptions of the information for free. To see images of the original records, you'll need to become an Essentials, Premium or Worldwide member, or pay-per-view.View Example
The census became even more detailed in 1891, so there's more to discover about your forebears. Everyone was specifically asked whether they were employed, while those in Wales specified whether they spoke Welsh. You can also see how many rooms were occupied in each house.View Example
This census shows changing working habits, as it includes information on whether your ancestors were working at home. There are also more details about the condition and size of their houses.View Example
The most exciting difference with the 1911 Census is you can see the original household schedules your ancestors filled in - with all previous censuses, you're looking at forms completed by enumerators. This means you can read your relatives' details in their own handwriting, and often see personal comments - one housewife gave her occupation as "slave to the family"!View Example
We have a complete set of census records for Scotland from 1841 to 1901. If you have ancestors in Scotland, you'll discover similar details in the returns for each year to their counterparts around the rest of Britain.
Unfortunately, we're unable to provide images of the original records for Scotland. However, we give you full transcriptions, so you can search for members of your family just as you would in the English returns, and see all the details for each household, including other family members.
Irish census records have been decimated over the years, as they were first pulped by the Government, then burned in the Civil War. We have some great substitutes that you can use like censuses to trace your Irish family, including an index to a large 19th-century survey known as Griffith's Valuation.
Census records are great for quickly and easily gathering names for your family tree. But they're far more than just lists of people. However long you've been looking into your family history, these rich resources can still throw up some incredible stories and surprising revelations.
Holly Bowman was thrilled to find her 2x great-grandfather, William Cooper in the 1891 Census, as the head of a huge household in Mayfair, London. Not only was William described as "Living on his own means" – a sure sign of an upper class gent – but his staff included a housekeeper, a butler, six maids, two footmen, a houseboy and a cook!
Daniel Dury experienced the excitement of discovering his ancestors living next door to one of the most famous scientists of all time. Daniel's 3x great-uncle William – a policeman – and his young family were recorded in the 1881 Census next to Charles Darwin – just a year before the naturalist's death.
Andrea Elliot assumed her ancestor, Julia Soady, had simply been unlucky in love – until the 1881 Census revealed a story of crime and deceit. It turned out Julia's husband was in jail – and she had committed bigamy!
Rachel Hemelryk's emotional census discoveries revealed where her roots lie, plus when and why her ancestors made the journey to Britain.
Enumerators just wrote names as they heard them, so you'll often find unusual names spelt wrongly on census returns. If you can't find a particular ancestor, try thinking of other ways their name may be spelt – for example, for 'Sampson' try 'Simpson', 'Samson' or 'Stampson'.
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