1851 to 1901 Census Returns of England and Wales

The 1851 to 1901 Census Returns give much more information about a household's occupants than the 1841 Census, so are much more useful when researching your family history. 

The 1841 Census only listed the household occupants, not stating their relationship to the head of the house, and did not give details of their birthplaces, only listing whether or not they were born in the county the census took place in.  This page will examine each census, describing the information that can be uncovered.

Relationship to the head and their Status

An individual's relationship to the head of the household is listed as is their status - Mar for married, Unm for unmarried and Wid for Widow or Widower.  

If the head of the household was married and the wife's relative was living in the family home, sometimes the householder could misunderstand and make it seem the wife's relative was related to him, which can be confusing. 

For example, without conducting further research, it is difficult to determine whether a person stated as being a niece or nephew of the head of the household was his niece or his wife's.


Ages in the 1851 to 1901 Census Returns are given more accurately than in 1841 as the ages of adults are no longer rounded down to the nearest 5 years.  Some ages can still be inaccurate however, because a lot depended on the householder being truthful about their real age, or remembering how old they actually were.  I have known a person to have aged only 5 years between Censuses even though there were 10 years between them!!


Occupations are recorded in more detail as the census now lists the occupation of all household members, listing as scholar those still at school.  From 1891, the census also stated whether the individual was an employer, employee or neither, if they were of working age.  In 1901, a column was added to state whether the person was working from home.

Birth Place

An individual's birthplace is now stated rather than just whether or not they had been born in the county which is much more helpful, but this information could still be incorrect so further research is always needed.  

If an individual was born and baptised in a different place to the one where they had been brought up they may have thought that was their birthplace and recorded it on the return.  
If an occupant was born outside England or Wales, in earlier censuses it simply stated the country of origin, giving no further information.  Much more information was recorded in later decades.

Did your ancestor suffer from an impediment?

In 1851 and 1861 a column listed whether the individual was blind or deaf-and-dumb.  From 1871 to 1891 whether the individual was either an 'imbecile or idiot' or a 'lunatic' was added.  In 1901, 'idiot' was replaced by feeble-minded.  

1851 to 1901 Census Returns Headings

1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
Address of Household Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Inhabited/Uninhabited Houses Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Name of Occupant Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Relationship to Head of Household Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Condition Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Gender Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Age Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Profession Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Whether employed or employer or neither No No No No Yes Yes
Blind or Deaf and Dumb Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
'Imbecile or Idiot' or Lunatic No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Feeble-minded No No No No No Yes

Where to find the 1851 to 1901 Returns

Most Record Offices hold the 1851 to 1901 Returns for their local area.  These can also be viewed at the National Archives.

The National Library of Wales holds the 1851 to 1901 Returns on microfiche for all of Wales.

You are also able to access free census records on-line at freecen.  Volunteers transcribe the information, the indexes being partially complete, but further information is being added constantly.

You can search the 1851-1901 Censuses online at Find My Past, The Genealogist and Ancestry. You are able to take out many different subscriptions through these sites.

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