The UK Census - England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man

Accessing the 1841-1911 Censuses

The censuses that family historians can currently view are those from 1841 to 1911, eight in total.

Census information is closed, certainly for family history purposes, for 100 years. However as a result of a ruling by the Information Commissioner, the 1911 census for England and Wales is available now, see here for details.

The 1931 census details was destroyed by fire in December 1942 (although by accident, not by enemy action) so don't hold your breath for 2032, see here for more details.

Until a few years ago, the only way to view census records was using microfilm or microfiche, either at the Family Records Centre in Islington where a complete set for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man was held or at local record offices. Indexes were sometimes available to help find the entries you were looking for, in other cases a page by page search through the films was required - not so bad if your ancestors lived in a village but near impossible if they had moved into a big city or were away from home on census night. The one exception was the 1881 census where a complete transcript was produced by volunteers, widely available on microfiche and later as a set of CDs.

This has now all changed, the Family Records Centre has closed and indexes are available for all of the 1841 to 1911 censuses enabling you to search on-line for ancestors and usually then look at the actual census page.

In some cases this is free, notably the FreeCEN project and also the LDS 1881 census transcript, in some cases there is a free search of the index such as the original 1901 census transcription or the 1911 census transcription but you have to pay to view the full entry or the image of the census page, and in other cases you just have to pay (although you can sometimes take advantage of free offers and free trials but be very careful to read and follow the rules and conditions if you don't want to end up paying).

Ancestry have a complete index for each of the 1841-1901 Censuses. To access the Ancestry records you need to take out a subscription but a 14 day free trial is usually available.

It is also possible to access the Ancestry site for free from many public libraries, for example in the UK to name just a few from Birmingham, Cornwall, Plymouth and Devon, Leicestershire, Camden, Barnsley Portsmouth and Swindon libraries and you can also view their transcripts from 1841 to 1891 without charge at the The National Archives in Kew.

The Genealogist site also offers transcripts of all the census for England and Wales for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1891 and 1901 and also for London for 1881.

The third organisation that offers subscription access to census records is Findmypast.
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1841 to 1911 census.

Scottish censuses from 1841 to 1911 are available at the Scotlands People site.

The coverage of each of the censuses from these various websites is described in more detail below.

The census is one of the two most valuable sources of archive information when trying to unravel your family history.

Birth, marriage and death records probably come first because they enable you to discover the exact dates of these three major events in the life of your ancestors but what the census does is bring together families. It is the one place you can go to see family groups, who were the brothers and sisters of your ancestors and maybe even more - it is not unusual to find a census entry where a niece or nephew is staying with an aunt or uncle and this in itself gives you further links and further confirmation when trying to put together your family tree.

This page concentrates on the nineteenth and twentieth century censuses in England and Wales, also including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. For further details on the Scotland census, you should visit FreeCEN and ScotlandsPeople sites.

The first census was taken in 1801 and after that every 10 years with the exception of 1941 (although equivalent information was gathered in 1939 for National Registration). However the censuses of 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831 are of limited use to family historians because they did not record the household names although in a few cases names were kept locally and can be found at local record offices.

From 1841, the census returns for England and Wales were compiled using the same system of registration districts and sub-districts that was used for the registration of births, marriages and deaths. Each registrar’s sub-district was divided into a number of enumeration districts, each of which was the responsibility of an enumerator. The enumerator delivered a form known as a schedule to each household a few days before census night, and collected the completed schedules the day after (or if nobody in the household could read or write, presumably complete the schedule there and then). Up to and including the 1901 census, the schedules were then sorted, and the details copied into the census enumerators’ books. It is these books which have survived and which can be seen today on microform, or in many cases digitally online. The original householders’ schedules were later destroyed. Special schedules were provided for vessels and institutions. The 1911 census is different in that the original schedules survived and these can now be viewed.

The census records everyone present in the household at midnight on the day of the census. These dates were ...

  • 1801 Tue 10 Mar
  • 1811 Mon 27 May
  • 1821 Mon 28 May
  • 1831 Sun 29 May
  • 1841 Sun 6 Jun
  • 1851 Sun 30 Mar
  • 1861 Sun 7 Apr
  • 1871 Sun 2 Apr
  • 1881 Sun 3 Apr
  • 1891 Sun 5 Apr
  • 1901 Sun 31 Mar
  • 1911 Sun 2 Apr
  • 1921 Sun 19 Jun
  • 1931 Sun 26 Apr
  • 1951 Sun 8 Apr
  • 1961 Sun 23 Apr
  • 1971 Sun 25 Apr
  • 1981 Sun 5 Apr
  • 1991 Sun 21 Apr
  • 2001 Sun 29 Apr
  • 2011 Sun 27 Mar

The Vision of Britain website has fascinating background material on the censuses through the years.

The 1841 Census

Accessing the 1841 Census

Ancestry have a complete index of the 1841 Census. To access the Ancestry records you need to take out a subscription but a 14 day free trial is usually available. You can also access the Ancestry 1841 census records for free on site at The National Archives in Kew.

Findmypast also has a complete transcription of the 1841 census for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, accessed either via an annual subscription or on a pay-per-view basis.
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1841 census.

FreeCEN have good coverage for some counties, particularly in Scotland and they also have 100% coverage for Cornwall, Warwickshire and Wiltshire. As the name says, this site is free.

The Channel Islands 1841 Census has been fully transcribed by Lorna Pratt.

The Genealogist site has transcripts for all of England and Wales. They can either be viewed by taking out a subscription or as pay-per-view.

This is the first census that is of real value to all family historians as it was the first to ask detailed questions about individuals.

It was taken on the night of Sunday 6th June 1841 and the following information was recorded about each person:

  • forename and surname
  • age (rounded down to the nearest five years for those aged 15 or over)
  • sex
  • occupation
  • if they were born in the county in which they were enumerated (Y or N)
  • if they were born in Scotland (S), Ireland (I) or Foreign Parts (F)

An address was also shown for each household but house numbers were rarely given, and in rural areas often only the name of the village or hamlet.

Scotlands people has an example of an 1841 census image, click here to see.

You can download a form produced by Ancestry showing the headings for the 1841 census by clicking here.

The 1851 Census

Accessing the 1851 Census

FreeCEN have good coverage for some counties, mainly in Scotland but they also have 100% coverage for Cornwall.

Ancestry have a complete index of the 1851 Census. To access the Ancestry records you need to take out a subscription but a 14 day free trial is usually available. You can also access the Ancestry 1851 census records for free on site at The National Archives in Kew.

Findmypast also have a complete transcription of the 1851 census for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, accessed either via an annual subscription or on a pay-per-view basis.
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1851 census.

The Genealogist site has transcripts for all of England and Wales. They can either be viewed by taking out a subscription or as pay-per-view.

The 1851 Census was taken on the night of Sunday 30th March 1851. There were some changes made to the information that had been collected 10 years before which provide some very important extra information for family historians.

These changes were:

  • relationship of each person to the head of the family
  • each person's marital status ("condition")
  • their age at last birthday - not rounded down, unlike in 1841
  • their place of birth, parish and county (or if born outside of England or Wales, just the country)
  • whether they were blind, or deaf and dumb

You can download a form produced by Ancestry showing the headings for the 1851 census by clicking here.

The 1861 Census

Accessing the 1861 Census

FreeCEN have good coverage for some counties, particularly in Scotland and also 100% coverage of Cornwall and good coverage of Denbighshire, Devon, Durham, Lincolnshire and Sussex.

Ancestry have a complete index of the 1861 Census. To access the Ancestry records you need to take out a subscription but a 14 day free trial is usually available. You can also access the Ancestry 1861 census records for free on site at The National Archives in Kew.

Findmypast also have a complete transcription of the 1861 census for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, accessed either via an annual subscription or on a pay-per-view basis.
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1861 census.

The Genealogist site has transcripts for all of England and Wales. They can either be viewed by taking out a subscription or as pay-per-view.

The 1861 Census was taken on the night of Sunday 7th April 1861. The information collected was the same as in 1851 apart from an extra column to record whether a house was inhabited or not.

You can download a form produced by Ancestry showing the headings for the 1861 census by clicking here.

The 1871 Census

Accessing the 1871 Census

FreeCEN have some coverage for English and Welsh counties notably Cornwall, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Herefordshire and Wiltshire.

Ancestry have a complete index of the 1871 Census. To access the Ancestry records you need to take out a subscription but a 14 day free trial is usually available. You can also access the Ancestry 1871 census records for free on site at The National Archives in Kew.

Findmypast also have a complete transcription of the 1871 census for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, accessed either via an annual subscription or on a pay-per-view basis.
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1871 census.

The Genealogist site has transcripts for all of England and Wales. They can either be viewed by taking out a subscription or as pay-per-view.

The 1871 Census was taken on the night of Sunday 2nd April 1871. The information collected was the same as in 1861 apart from the column recording whether someone was "Blind" or "Deaf and Dumb" where two extra options were given, "Imbecile or Idiot" or "Lunatic".

You can download a form produced by Ancestry showing the headings for the 1871 census by clicking here.

The 1881 Census

Accessing the 1881 Census

The 1881 census for England, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man was fully transcribed in the 1980s by an army of volunteers and published by the Church of Latter Day Saints - LDS. Initially it was widely available on fiche or as a set of CDs sold at cost price but the transcription can now also be viewed (but minus the Scottish records) for free online at the LDS Family Search site.

The same transcriptions can also be searched for free at Ancestry. They have also linked it to scans of the original census index pages but these are only available to subscribers. A 14 day free trial is usually available.

Findmypast also have a complete transcription of the 1881 census for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which can be viewed for free (although you do need to register with them).
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1881 census.

The Genealogist site has transcripts for a number of counties including London and Lancashire. They include linked images so the original pages can be seen and can either be viewed by taking out a subscription or as pay-per-view.

FreeCEN have close to 100% coverage of Cornwall.

The 1881 Census was taken on the night of Sunday 3rd April 1881. The information collected was the same as in 1871.

You can download a form produced by Ancestry showing the headings for the 1881 census by clicking here.

The 1891 Census

Accessing the 1891 Census

FreeCEN have good coverage for some English and Welsh counties, notably 100% coverage for Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Devon and Warwickshire plus very good coverage for Caernarvonshire, Cumberland, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Hampshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk and Sussex.

Ancestry have a complete index of the 1891 Census. To access the Ancestry records you need to take out a subscription but a 14 day free trial is usually available. You can also access the Ancestry 1891 census records for free on site at The National Archives in Kew.

Findmypast also has a complete transcription of the 1891 census for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, accessed either via an annual subscription or on a pay-per-view basis.
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1891 census.

The Genealogist site has transcripts for all of England and Wales. They can either be viewed by taking out a subscription or as pay-per-view.

The 1891 Census was taken on the night of Sunday 5th April 1891. The information collected was the same as in 1881 with the following extra information:

  • the number of rooms occupied, if less than five
  • whether someone was an employer, employed or neither
  • in Wales, the language spoken

You can download a form produced by Ancestry showing the headings for the 1891 census by clicking here.

The 1901 Census

Accessing the 1901 Census

Ancestry have a complete index of the 1901 Census.
Normally to access the Ancestry records you need to take out a subscription but a 14 day free trial is usually available.

Findmypast also have a complete transcription of the 1901 census for England and Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, accessed either via an annual subscription or on a pay-per-view basis.
Currently you can take advantage of a 14 day free trial from findmypast which includes the 1901 census.

The Genealogist site also has transcripts for all of England and Wales. They can either be viewed by taking out a subscription or as pay-per-view.

The original transcription of the 1901 index, now run by Genes Reunited, can be accessed here. Use of the index is free and you get useful information back about the person but you have to pay to see the full transcription or the images. You can also access the 1901 census records for free on site at The National Archives in Kew.

The 1901 Census was taken on the night of Sunday 31st March 1901. The information collected was the same as in 1891 apart from one extra detail, whether someone was working at home. Also the language spoken question was extended to include the Isle of Man as well as Wales.

The 1901 census was the first to be completely transcribed as it became available to the public (well that was the plan but the public demand overwhelmed the Qinetiq developed web site so it was about six months before it became generally available). The site has since been sold to Genes Reunited.

You can download a form produced by Ancestry showing the headings for the 1901 census by clicking here.

The 1911 Census

Accessing the 1911 Census

The 1911 Census has been scanned and indexed by findmypast. You can get to the 1911 census site here. Use of the index is free and you get useful information back about the person but you have to pay to see the full transcription or the original schedule. To view these you can take out a 6 month or annual subscription or you can use pay per view credits.

Alternatively, the 1911 census can be searched for free, including viewing the transcripts and schedules, at the National Archives in Kew. There is more information here on the National Archives website.

The Scottish 1911 census is also now available - more details here.

The 1911 Census was taken on the night of Sunday 2nd April. New information collected in the 1911 census was concerned with the family, with questions that had to be answered by married women on how long they had been married and how many children there were from the marriage.

You can see the blank schedules (including instructions) that had to be completed by each household here.