Census Returns


The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1801, with the exception of 1941. It was first created to monitor the growing population.  The sheets that contain the information about each household are referred to as census returns.  From 1801-1831 the returns contained head counts but little personal information.  From 1841 onwards returns included information on individuals.  At present census returns from 1801-1901 are accessible. Census return details remain inaccessible for 100 years, although statistical summaries are available for all censuses up until 2001.  It is worth noting that the census returns from 1931 were destroyed during the Second World War.  From 1841 each sheet lists a number of dwellings including the names of the inhabitants, their ages, relationships, occupations and places of birth.

Figure 2: Census Return 1881

Original held by the National Archive

Click here for larger image


Census returns prior to 1841 are less useful for specific information as they are less detailed than subsequent returns.  The census returns from 1841 onwards contain detailed information for each household.  However only those present on the night of the census were recorded.  Identifying individual households can also be tricky because of a lack of detailed addresses, particularly house numbers.

Census returns can be used for a number of purposes including:

  • Using occupation information to examine commerce and industry within a specific area.
  • Identifying uses of particular buildings, for instance public houses and shops.
  • Identifying who was living in particular houses and streets
  • Researching family history

Where to find this source:

  • Local library
  • County Record Office
  • Internet