The 1841 Census of England and Wales

The 1841 Census of England and Wales was the first census taken at the same time across the country, the census date being 6 June 1841. Enumeration Districts were made up of subdivisions of Civil Registration Districts, and were designed so one person could, in a single day, collect data from all households in the area.

A census schedule was delivered to every household a few days before the entry was due to be taken.  This schedule was to be completed by the householder and then collected by the enumerator.

If the householder was illiterate, or could not fill in the form for another reason, the enumerator would help them to complete the schedule.

It was not uncommon, however, for the enumerator to mishear what was said by the householder, especially if they had a strong accent, so he may have transcribed the information provided to him incorrectly.  It is best, in the circumstances, to double check the information provided on the census with other sources.

On each page, the enumerator would total up the number of males and females in the columns, and the number of inhabited and uninhabited houses.

Census Addresses

Only a very brief description of the address was entered on the return, but all household occupants were recorded for the first time.  The address was rarely written at all in villages because it was not considered to be necessary.

It is also possible to search the 1841 census street index, but it is necessary to know the address your ancestor was living at.  This is only available for towns and cities, villages are not included.

Census Ages

The ages of occupants over the age of 15 were rounded down to the nearest 5 years, for example, someone aged 53 would be transcribed as being 50, so when looking for your ancestor's baptism in parish registers, which would be the only option open to you because civil registration did not begin in England and Wales until the September quarter of 1837(includes July, August and September), it is prudent to check for 3 or 4 years either side of the year in which you believe they were born.

Sometimes the enumerator would record exact ages, which is a great help to the family historian because it makes it easier to trace their baptism.

Occupations and their Abbreviations

Occupations were noted for the first time, but occupants' relationship to the head of the household was not recorded.  

The enumerator used occupation codes as follows:

Ag. Lab

Agricultural Labourer
Members of the Army
Female Servant
Independent - on their own means
Shoe Maker etc
Male Servant
Members of the Royal Navy

Birth Places

It did not give details of a person's birthplace, instead stating whether or not they were born in the county in which they were living.  If not, it was marked 'N' for not in the county but elsewhere in England, 'S' for Scotland, 'I' for Ireland or 'F' for Foreign Parts.  

If a household member did not know where they were born, NK was written.  This stood for 'not known', which is always disappointing when conducting family tree research because it makes it much more difficult to ascertain their place of origin.

Problems with the Census

One of the major problems with the Census is that because it was written in pencil, some pages have badly faded over the years, and are now unfortunately illegible on the microfilm copies of the census.

It is also important to note that some parts of the return have missing pieces, as parts have been lost over the years, so if you are unable to find your ancestor on the census, please bear this in mind. Counties in which some parishes are missing from the census include:

  • Cheshire
  • Derbyshire
  • Hampshire
  • Kent
  • Middlesex
  • Northamptonshire
  • Oxfordshire
  • Somerset
  • Surrey
  • Wiltshire
  • Yorkshire

It is also sometimes very difficult to read the handwriting on the Census Returns.

Another problem was that because the return was compiled on 6 June, which was a harvest night, some agricultural labourers may have been missing from the census because they were working.  They may have slept outside or were away from the family home.

1841 Census Headings

  • Place
  • Number of uninhabited and inhabited houses
  • Names
  • Age and Sex (different columns for males and females)
  • Profession, Trade, Employment, or of Independent Means: Occupation

Where can I find the Census?

Most County Record Offices hold the 1841 Census for their local area.  These can also be viewed at the National Archives.

The National Library of Wales holds the 1841 Census on microfiche for all of Wales.

It is also possible to access free census records on-line at freecen which is transcribed by volunteers and contains partially complete indexes, although more information is being added all the time.

You can also search the 1841 Census through Find My Past, The Genealogist and Ancestry.Ancestry Many subscriptions are available through these companies.

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