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The Census before 1841

Almost all family historians have discovered a wealth of information from the censuses held in 1841 and at later dates. Far fewer of us have used information created for censuses in earlier years.

The first national census took place in 1801 and was followed by those for 1811, 1821 and 1831. Local officials had to submit statistical information about the population of their parishes and other areas. They were not told to record names. However, in order to compile the statistics they often found it useful to compile lists of householders or even of all the inhabitants and then use information arranged in these lists when calculating the statistics.

Records from the early censuses are not kept centrally. It is not even known exactly how many places are covered and for which years. Despite this, at least 793 listings have so far been identified for the four censuses that took place during the period. At least 73 sets include the names of all the individuals in the area.

An excellent introduction and guide to the subject can be seen online and downloaded free of charge. It includes a county-by-county catalogue of the name lists that have been identified. The authors of this clearly laid out work are Richard Wall, Matthew Woollard and Beatrice Moring of Essex University.

It costs nothing to look into this possibility. It could lead you to unexpected discoveries.


Francis Howcutt
FFHS Archives Liaison

25 July 2014

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