For UK census records, the first place to look is the 1911 Census, which is our most recent collection. Censuses then go back every 10 years until 1841, which was the first to ask for personal information. These census records can tell you where your ancestor lived, their name, gender, age on the date of the census, occupation and birthplace (in 1841 it is just shown as within the county or outside). They will also show who they were living or staying with on the night of the census.
From 1851 the person's relationship to the head of the household and marital status are shown, as well as whether they have a disability.
The 1911 Census is special, because you can view the original household schedules. This means you can read your relatives' details in their own handwriting, and often see personal comments.
Census records have been taken for many years to keep track of the country’s population. They let you piece together the different generations of your family, and discover details like your ancestors’ addresses, occupations and birthplaces. We have a complete set of indexes and images of censuses for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, for every decade from 1841 to 1911. Plus, we have indexes for Scotland up to 1901.
Electoral rolls were taken more regularly than censuses, often every year. They usually reveal names and addresses, so you can trace your ancestors’ movements with precision.
- The census was to record everyone who slept in the house on census night, including travelers.
- Pinpoint your ancestor's location from the census on a map, and then look for churches, cemeteries, and other places where your ancestor may have left records.
- Be sure to locate your ancestor's adult siblings in census records. It was common for extended family to live in the same household or near other family members. You may find a parent, grandparent, or other family members living either with them or nearby.
- If you're having a difficult time locating your ancestor, try searching using only given names and other details like birth year, residence, family members, place of birth, etc.
- Occasionally, census takers only recorded initials in place of the given name. Using only a first initial will bring up these records.
- Census takers didn't always have the best penmanship, so if you're having a hard time locating your ancestor, write out the name and try replacing some of the letters with letters that look similar.
- In 1851, ships in port or in British waters were treated like institutions and enumerated separately. Crews of ships at sea or in foreign ports were not counted in 1841 and 1851. Starting in 1861, special shipping schedules were used to account for all British vessels anywhere at sea.