The census is a head count of everyone in the country on a given day. A census has been taken in England and Wales, and separately for Scotland, every ten years since 1801, with the exception of 1941.

The object of the census was not to obtain detailed information about individuals, but to provide information about the population as a whole; listing everyone by name, wherever they happened to be on a single night, was the most efficient way to count everybody once, and nobody twice.

Dates of the censuses were as follows:

The dates of the censuses were as follows:

1841 – 6 June

1851 – 30 March

1861 – 7 April

1871 – 2 April

1881 – 3 April

1891 – 5 April

1901 – 31 March

1911 – 2 April

1921 – 19 June


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

1851 and 1861

  • first name, middle names (often just initials) and surname
  • relationship to the head of the household
  • marital status
  • age (at last birthday)
  • sex
  • rank, profession or occupation
  • where born – county and parish if born in England or Wales, country only if born outside England and Wales)
  • whether blind, or deaf and dumb

1871 and 1881

  • As 1851 and 1861, except for the following difference: the last column now reads: 1. Blind 2. Deaf and Dumb 3. Imbecile or Idiot 4. Lunatic


  • As 1871 and 1881 with the following extra details on employment: whether Employer, Employed, or Neither Employer nor Employed language spoken (Wales only)


  • As 1891, with occupation details changed to:
  • ‘Employer, Worker or Own account’
  • a new column ‘If working at home’
  • language spoken (Isle of Man only)


  • As 1901, with extra questions:
  • For married women only, the number of years of their present marriage, the number of children born of that marriage, the number still living, and the number that had died.
  • As well as their occupation, the industry in which the person was employed. If employed by a government, municipal or other public body, the name of that body.
  • Parish and county of birth for anyone born in the UK (which included all of Ireland). If born elsewhere in the British Empire, the colony or dependency, and the state or province.
  • For anyone born outside England and Wales, whether they were resident or visitor in the country.
  • Nationality of anyone born overseas whether British by parentage, British by naturalisation (including year of naturalisation) or, if a foreign national, of which country.
  • In the Infirmity column, the age at which the person had become afflicted.
  • In 1911 all the household schedules were kept, for the first time (see RG 14), and were not copied into enumeration books. There are instead enumerators’ summary books which list every address, including unoccupied buildings, and the only names they contain are those of the head of each household (see RG 78). These summary books are the only place you will find a description of each building such as ‘House and shop’, ‘Hotel’, ‘Private house’. Unoccupied houses and non-residential properties such as churches and factories are also listed.


  • This was the first census where old questions were dropped, as well as new ones being added. The questions about the length of present marriage, and the number of children born within it, were no longer included. For the first time since 1841, there was no longer a question on infirmity or disability.
  • There were also changes to some existing questions:
  • Age was asked for in years and months, not just in years
  • ‘Divorced’ was added as an option for marital status
  • Name and business of each person’s employer (in 1911 this was only required from those in public service), and the address of their place of work. ‘No fixed place’ was added as an option, in addition to ‘Home’
  • For persons born outside the United Kingdom, country and state or province of birth; state or province was previously asked only of those born in the British Empire. Naturalised British subjects were no longer asked for their year of naturalisation
  • New questions were added:
  • For children under 15, whether both parents were alive, father dead, mother dead, or both dead
  • Whether in full-time or part-time education
  • Married men, widows and widowers were asked for the number and ages of their living children and step-children under 16
  • In 1921 there are household schedules, as in 1911, but there are no enumerators’ summary books as there are for 1911. Instead, there are ‘Plans of Division’ which describe the boundaries and contents of each enumeration district.
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