Tips for using census records

Census records can be an incredibly useful tool when it comes to saving your family history.  They will give you insight into the movements of your ancestors and can help verify the information you find from birth, death and marriage certificates.  They can be especially helpful for researching Scottish and Irish ancestors who were born before the implementation of a civil registration for births, deaths and marriages.

The context that census records provide cannot be underestimated, family groups often lived close to one another when the census was taken, so with careful digging you may uncover new branches of your family to explore. Because a census only recorded who was in the house on the  night it was taken sudden disappearances of individuals from records may indicate that they were travelling, were imprisoned or were serving overseas  could indicate marriage, prison, service (British army members serving overseas were not included on any census till 1911)

Be aware that census records may not be completely accurate because the early ones were not filled in or checked by the person it was recording so alternative spellings of family names are commonplaces.  People may have claimed to be married in a bid to hide an illegitimate child or family scandal.

To help you get started with using census records, take note of the years and dates that a census was conducted.

  • 1841 – 6th June
  • 1851 – 30th March
  • 1861 – 7th April
  • 1871 – 2nd April
  • 1881 – 3rd April
  • 1891 – 5th April
  • 1901 – 31st March
  • 1911 – 2nd April


  • The 1921 Census is not currently available online.
  • The 1931 census was destroyed in a fire
  • no census was taken in 1941 due to WWII

There are many ways to access census records but the most popular method is through either subscription based or pay-per-view websites that allow you to search through the records to find your family.  There is also a free resource where volunteers have been diligently transcribing the 1841-1891 census to create a free resource that is easily searchable for budding genealogists.


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