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Greville Watson 2007
Census Introduction

A national census of everyone living in this country on one particular day was first taken in 1801 and thereafter every ten years, but until 1841 no names were recorded and very few of those early censuses survive. Originally it was simply a statistical survey to assist government planning and was intended to provide information relating to manpower available for military service during the Napoleonic Wars and a count of the population that would need to be fed. Detailed data about individuals was only taken from 1841 onwards.

There are no ‘original census records’. What were called ‘Household Schedules’ were delivered to each household before the census date and a person called an Enumerator later collected the schedules shortly after the census date. The schedules were then copied by the Enumerator into his ‘enumerator’s book’, now called the ‘Census Returns’.

The 1841 Census was taken on 6 June 1841 and for the first time recorded details about every person living within a house. The information it contains is limited compared to later census returns and the actual entries can be difficult to read as they were written in pencil. Only the precise age of children under the age of 15 was recorded and often down to a number of months, weeks or even days if the child was under one. (The suffixes ‘m’, ‘w’ and ‘d’ have been used in our transcriptions to indicate such ages and the prefix ‘<’ [less than] has been used where an age has been recorded as ‘under’ a particular figure). Everyone else normally had their age rounded down to the nearest five years. The place of birth of individuals was restricted to Y or N for ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending on whether they were born in or outside the county in which they lived and S, I or P indicated they were born on Scotland, Ireland or foreign parts.

Subsequent censuses were written in ink and taken on the following dates: 30 March 1851, 7 April 1861, 2 April 1971, 3 April 1881, 5 April 1891 and 31 March 1901. These recorded far more information and are usually easier to read. Not only did they list the relationship of each family member to the head of the household but also people unconnected through family ties but living with the family on the night the census was recorded. This included friends and visitors, lodgers, residents in hotels and servants living with a family. The marital status of adults is also listed, either married, unmarried or single, widow or widower. Children were usually left blank. The age of every person living in the household was recorded, accurate to their last birthday.

Often the householders would be illiterate, in which case the Enumerator had to write what he was told, giving ample scope for misunderstandings and errors as surnames and place names would be spelled as the Enumerator heard them pronounced. It is therefore suggested that where a name cannot be found in any transcriptions that all variant spellings should also be checked.

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure our transcriptions are correct, by the very nature of how the original documents were compiled, together with the interpretation of the census Enumerator’s handwriting, the accuracy of the information cannot be guaranteed and should only be used as a guide. It is always recommended that copies of the original documents should be viewed whenever possible to verify the data.

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