A population census for England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands has been held every ten years since 1801, excluding 1941. However, only those that date from 1841 are of real value to the family historian. Census information is only available to the public after 100 years. The 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 census returns are available for public inspection and the 1911 census will be available from 2012.
The censuses of 10 March 1801, 27 May 1811, 28 May 1821 and 30 May 1831 were the responsibility of the Overseers of the Poor and the clergy. They were confined to the compilation of the totals (by parish) of houses habited and uninhabited, families, men and women, occupations and various statistics of baptisms, marriages and burials. A partial enumeration of age was taken in 1821 and a more extensive investigation into occupations in 1831. The names of individuals were not recorded in the official returns although some local enumerators did compile unofficial listings. Most of these pre 1841 census records were destroyed but some survive in local record offices.
Following the General Registration Act of 1836, the administration of the census passed into the hands of the Registrar General and the Superintendent Registrars, who were responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths.
The names of individuals were first recorded in the census taken on 6 June 1841. The information collected for each person in each household included full name; age; sex; occupation and whether the individual was born in the county of residence or not and, if not, whether in Scotland (S), Ireland (I), or foreign parts (F). For those under 15, ages were given exactly (if known): for people over 15, ages were rounded down to the nearest five years. The relationships between members of the same household are not recorded, but can often be inferred.
The 1851 - 1891 censuses were taken on 30 March 1851, 7 April 1861, 2 April 1871, 3 April 1881 and 5 April 1891. They recorded for each person full name; exact age; relationship to head of household; sex; occupation; parish and county of birth; and various medical disabilities. The 1891 returns contain additional information on employment status, and, for Wales, on the language spoken. Individuals were recorded in the households and houses in which they lived.
The 1901 census was taken on 31st March 1901 and is the first census to be made available online by the Public Records Office.
The 1911 census was taken on 2nd April 1911 and will be available for public inspection from January 2012. In 1921 the census was taken on 19th June 1921. Although the 1931 census was taken on 26th April 1931 it was destroyed during the Second World War. In 1941 a national register replaced the census and national identity cards were issued.
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