Interested to find your UK ancestors? Want to find as much information about them as you possibly can? Well, then you will want to read my guide to the UK census online.
Here I will show you which free and paid websites that you can check out. There are a number of sites that you can explore and I will show you the best ones for you to visit.
This post discusses various ways that you can access the U.K. census records for your ancestor within either England Wales. Censuses were conducted separately for Scotland and Ireland.
If you want to find your Scottish ancestor then please check out the Scotland’s People website. This is a paid site so you will have to pay to access any of their records. For the Irish Census you can visit the National Archives of Ireland. Similar with the Scottish census you will likewise have to pay.
Sources of census records available online:
- Free Census Records Online (includes FamilySearch and FreeCen)
- Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage
- National Archives UK
- UK Census Online
Free Census Records Online
Whenever I am searching for information about my ancestors I always check to see what I can get for free. It is always a good idea to see what you can find without spending any money first.
That money can be better spent on things that will have to be paid for.
Just what free options are available to you?
Family Search Census Records
You can access the U.K. census records through the Family Search website. On this site you will find images for the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1891, 1901 and 1911 census years.
You will have noticed that I missed out 1881! This is because on Family Search there is also a full transcription for this particular year. That means that you can easily search for your ancestor by name for 1881.
To find your relative for all the other years you will unfortunately have to search through the images.
Family Search does millions of records and I have found many records containing my ancestors on this site. However, the problem though is that I do not always find what I am looking for.
For that reason I usually there have to go to one of the paid genealogy sites.
And because only the 1881 census is fully transcribed that means that I have to go elsewhere to easily find my ancestors.
Since FreeCen was established back in 1999 the number of volunteers continues to grow working on transcribing the U.K. census. There are even volunteers from outside of the U.K. willing to help with the transcription.
This is a great initiative, to have the U.K. census contained in one database, and be accessible for free. However, the bad news is that not all census years are covered.
With the help of volunteers the site covers census years 1841 to 1891. So if you are looking for the 1901 and 1911 census then you will have to look elsewhere.
Another disadvantage of this site is that these census years are not yet fully transcribed. But the website does welcome new volunteers. So if you would like to give back to the genealogy world then why not help them transcribe these records.
For more information please check out their website.
Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage
I visit these two paid genealogy search websites to trace my family tree. Sure you do have to part with your cash but I usually find what I am looking for on these sites. This is because their databases are mostly complete.
The only reason why I may not find what I am looking for is maybe because there is no particular record of my ancestor in the first place. Take for example one ancestor of mine.
I tried and I tried to search for my 2nd great grandmother Ann Waters in the 1851 census but alas I couldn’t. I came to the realization that she was just not included for this year.
Both Ancestry and FindMyPast offer all of the U.K. census years, where they have indexes and images. If you are an Ancestry member already then you will be able to link these census images to your family tree that you have built on their website.
Tip: There is a way that you can access these records for free on both Ancestry and Find My Past. Why not visit your local library? I have done this many times and have built my family tree extensively by using my library’s computer and accessing these sites.
You may also have heard of the MyHeritage website. I have not used this site myself but I did want to bring to your attention that they do have all of the census years available for you to search. Like the two other sites that I have just mentioned you will have to pay to access these records.
National Archives UK
To access a census record containing your ancestor from The National Archives UK you will need to pay. Despite having to pay for this service you will find all of the census years within their collection.
So if you do not wish to use any of the above mentioned sites then you may wish to check out the National Archives site.
If you are in England then you may wish to pay the National Archives a visit and see the original documents or records in person. Not only do they have census records but also births, deaths and marriages certificates, military and maritime records, criminal records and more.
The Archives are located at Kew in Surrey. For more information on opening times and how to get there please visit their Visit Us page.
Credit: National Archives UK
UK Census Online
You can access and search each of the census years 1841 to 1911 on the UK Census Online website. However, this is yet another paid service where you can choose from a monthly, quarterly, 6 monthly or a yearly membership. Not only will you find the index to your ancestor’s records but an image as well.
Access to births, marriages and deaths is also possible on this site. You can combine your membership to include access to these records as well.
You are able to conduct a free search where you will be presented with the following:
- Estimated year of birth
- Place of birth (town and county)
But to view the record you will then need to pay. If you do decide to pay then I do suggest that you are certain that you have the correct individual and that the person that you have found is in fact your ancestor.
You maybe quite uncertain about this if your ancestor has a common name, John Smith perhaps. The occupation field is a great way to identify if you have the correct individual.
My Final Thoughts
As I have pointed out and explored in this post there are several sites that you can visit to find your ancestors within the UK census. There are others but these ones I feel are the best for you to conduct your search. The choice though is yours.
I do suggest though that you try out the free options first. So head to Family Search and see what you can find there.
If you do have a local library then why not visit it and go on the computer there. They will most likely have a subscription to Ancestry and probably Find My Past. So you will be able to search these websites for free.
Census records as I said earlier have been a great help to me in building out my family tree. They too can help you. They are great resource for any genealogist wishing to trace their heritage.
I wish you all the best on your family history journey.
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