UK Census Dates and Why You Should Use UK Census Records

By | June 14, 2017

You will be surprised as to what you can learn about your ancestors from old census records. Here I will list UK census dates which will give you clues about your ancestry. Also, I will discuss why you should use these records for your genealogy research.

UK Census Dates

First a little bit about my research!

I first got interested in genealogy because of the many stories that my father would recite to me and my brothers. Before I got started to trace my family tree my father had already done some ground work, (no pun intended).

I used what he had found out about our family tree and put it into a genealogy software program. Then after that I went on Ancestry and UK census records so that I could add more family members to our existing tree.

I wanted to not only had ancestors but also there siblings and their descendants, within reason of course. I probably went mad with finding all my relatives but I was hooked on genealogy.

You can learn so much about your ancestry from census records as I will discuss below and knowing when these records were taken can also give you clues as to your family. I will explain more about that later.

Topics discussed in this post:

  1. The UK census
  2. The UK census dates
  3. Why use censuses?
  4. Where can I find UK census records?

The UK Census

The UK has conducted a census for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man from as early as 1801. Scotland does gather information about the population separately to the rest of the UK. These censuses are taken every ten years with the exception of 1941 due to World War Two.

UK Census

The first UK Census in 1801!

The first census of England and Wales took place on March 10th 1801. However, census records were not kept until 1841. They were a way for the government to learn about the population’s growth and its distribution throughout the country.

The people responsible for collecting information within the parish were the overseers of the poor, ‘substantial landholders’ and also the local clergy.

This 1801 census was more interested in the number of inhabited and uninhabited houses of the parish rather than the individual and information about them. This census also recorded how many people were in the parish, the families living within the household and their employment. The number of baptisms, marriages and burials was also recorded.

More questions added to the 1811-1831 censuses!

By the second UK census in 1811 the government wanted to know the reasons for the uninhabited households of the parish. The reason for this was to ascertain the prosperity of the parish.

More questions added

Then in 1821 the age of the community was recorded. This would help to learn the life expectancy of people and hopefully improve life assurance. The other reason for finding out a parishioner’s age was to find men who were able to bear arms.

By 1831 details with regard to a person’s employment was recorded. And this could help the government learn economic information about the UK.

The 1841 census gave us more information!

It was not until 1841 where the focus was shifted to the individual and their family rather than the parish as a whole. The 1841 census has been regarded as the earliest UK gathered document that genealogists use to research their ancestry.

A person’s full name, sex, age and occupation were recorded in this census. The age of the person was rounded down the nearest five if the person was over 15.

The Home Office was responsible for performing the 1841 and 1851 censuses. And so the reference number for these records are prefixed with HO107.

From 1851 to 1911!

The relationship between the head of the household and the other inhabitants of the household was first recorded in 1851. A person’s place of birth was also recorded, as well as whether any person in the house was blind or ‘dumb’.

The government in 1851 also wanted to know information about people serving or working on vessels. The reason for this was that earlier censuses omitted these individuals and the government could not gather information about the population as a whole.

A person’s mental state was first recorded in 1851 and by 1871 the level of questioning was increased. So from 1871 right up until 1911 it was recorded whether a person was deaf and dumb; blind; imbecile or idiot; or lunatic.

Deaf and dumb

It was noted by 1881 that there was a surprising number of people who were recorded as death and dumb. However, the reason for this was that some enumerators put down this infirmity for babies as they could not speak.

From 1861 onwards the Registrar General’s Department was responsible for conducting these decennial censuses. And these records are therefore prefixed with the letters RG.

Both the 1871 and 1881 censuses asked whether a person was unemployed. This question would not be repeated until 1931. And then in 1891 it was noted whether a person was an employer or an employee. By 1901 it was recorded if a person was working at home.

Incidentally the 1891 census was the first time that women were allowed to become enumerators.

The 1911 census saw even more questioning as you can imagine. This particular census wanted to know how many years the head of the house and their partner had been married for. Also, how many children had been born alive, how many are still living and how many have died.

The UK Census Dates

You can learn a lot from looking at when the census was conducted for a particular year. So for example if you cannot find your ancestor for the year that your ancestor was born it maybe because your ancestor was born after the census was performed. So if you cannot find your ancestor for that year then please check the census date.

UK Census Dates

Because of the 100 year rule only the records from 1841 through to 1911 are available. This means rule that 100 years need to have elapsed before you can gain access to these records. So for the 1921 Census you will have to wait until 2021.

UK census dates from 1841 to 1911:

  • 1841 – 6th June (HO107)
  • 1851 – 30th March (HO107)
  • 1861 – 7th April (RG9)
  • 1871 – 2nd April (RG10)
  • 1881 – 3rd April (RG11)
  • 1891 – 5th April (RG12)
  • 1901 – 31st March (RG13)
  • 1911 – 2nd April (RG14)

Please note: I have included prefix codes that will help you identify the census that you are searching for.

Even though the Scottish government carries out its’ own census the dates for the following dates are the same for England, Wales and Scotland.

Why Use Censuses?

I have already pointed out that I have used censuses a great deal, maybe too much, if that is such a thing. But you can learn so much from these records which will help you immensely to create and build your family tree.

Why use censuses?

You can learn all sorts of things about the family group by using these records. Data that can be gleaned from these records include facts such as where your ancestor lived and what they did for a living. You can then use this information to pinpoint where your ancestor was at any given time. And also you can prove what their occupation was.

Find the stories!

Checking these censuses will give you a snapshot of your ancestors lives. You can see where they moved to which can indicate why they were employed in a certain profession. For example, some of my ancestors lived in the valleys of South Wales where there were an abundance of coal mines, and so they became coal miners.

Finding that your ancestor once lived in a street that no longer exists can also be exciting to discover. This I have discovered within my own family tree. The street that my second great grandfather lived in was knocked down because of an outbreak of cholera.

If I did not try to find this street and learn the history of the town that my ancestor lived in then I would not have found out this interesting story to write in my family history book.

There are so many stories that you can find by looking a little bit closer at the facts.

Where Can I Find UK Census Records?

You can choose to search these census records either in person or in the comfort of your own home. Please bear in mind though that if you are compatible with using a computer and are familiar with searching for records then conducting an online search will be a better option.

Where can I find census records

Your FREE options!

If though you do decide to step outside your home and make a day trip of it then you will need to go to the National Archives in Kew. You will not actually see these records but will have to use a microfiche reader. However, accesses the censuses is FREE, one of the great reasons why you should check them out in person.

If Kew is too far for you then you can always go to your local county office. They should have copies of these returns. But again you will need to use a microfiche reader to check these records out.

Two options that I can suggest to you if you want to search online, are FreeCen and FamilySearch. It will be hit and miss for these sites as not all records have been uploaded to these sites. The former is run by volunteers and covers censuses from 1841 to 1891.

For the Scottish censuses you can check out the ScotlandsPeople website. If you are after Irish census records then I am afraid to say that you will have little luck with these records. The majority of them have been destroyed due to riots in Ireland. However, you can check out 1901 and 1911 censuses at The National Archives Ireland.

The PAID options!

Two of the best paid options that you can check out are Ancestry and Find My Past. You will have to pay to view the original but you will be able to see a transcription for these records.

Final Thoughts

I have really found out so much about my family tree from censuses. It has by far been the most valuable source of information that I have used for my genealogy research. I have spent hours researching and recording all that I could find about my family through searching these records.

After spending countless hours I would then sit back and digest all that I had found and put it all into my genealogy software program. The problem here though was information overload. So my advice is just take your time and take small pieces of information.

The dates that these censuses can also give you clues to your ancestry. So it is worth checking this, particularly if you cannot find your ancestor, i.e. they weren’t born when the census was carried out.

The important thing to take from this post is that not only can you learn interesting facts about your ancestors through these records but also the stories as well. As I pointed out earlier if I did not do some checking then I would not have discovered that my ancestor once lived in a street that had an outbreak of cholera. And so was forced to move out of their home with his family.

So come on people, come to your senses and use the censuses!

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post showing you UK census dates and also giving you tips on using these UK census records. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

6 thoughts on “UK Census Dates and Why You Should Use UK Census Records

  1. bibian okoye

    You have really done a great job searching out about this Uk’s census dates and the importance of the dates and why people should use it to trace their ancestral tree just as you have spent a great time searching and putting them together. You have really made work easy for people who wants to know about their ancestors.
    I will recommend this site for people who wants to search for their ancestors.
    Great article you have Owain

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you Bibian for the compliments. I am touched.

      I have spent some time to put this particular post together. Check back as I will be adding a very useful post giving tips on how best to use censuses and how to search them.

      Thank you also for sharing. It’s much appreciated.

  2. Eric Cantu

    Very nice post. I can see genealogy is a real passion of yours. How would you compare UK census data to that of the US?

    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks Eric.

      The US census is pretty much similar to the UK Census. Both give a snapshot of the family on a given day/night. There is a 72 year rule with the US census so it’s great for Americans to use more recent information from these records.

      Stay tuned as I will be adding a post regarding the US census.

  3. Warren Kunish

    Great information here. I was able to trace my maternal grandmother back to the 1500s in Cornwall and I used census records to show when a migration to place to Ontario. I would really recommend using this. I would like to go further in my research and see if I have relatives in England today. What was your experience like as far as ease of access and then of usage?



    1. Owain Post author

      That’s great to hear that you have had some great success with using census records. They really are a useful resource for genealogists to use.

      I used both Ancestry and Find My Past to check the censuses. These sites for me were both easy to use. My only issue with them is the transcription of the records. Sometimes I would find a record on one site and not on the other. So if you cannot find a record for an ancestor on one site then I suggest you check another.


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