Friday, November 14, 2014

UK Census Returns 1801

Census information is a vital part of family history with the 1841 census giving the household occupants by name for the first time.  It is unfortunate for family historians that the location of birth is only given as a Yes/No in the county.  The form was amended in 1851 to record where the person was born - an incredibly useful piece of information.

However, the 1841 Census was the fourth census to be undertaken with the preceding censuses being in 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831.  

Whilst the 1841 and 1851 censuses are commonly used, less known is the format of the earlier censuses.  In looking at these I searched for a small village in Hertfordshire called Long Marston where my own ancestors came from.

The censuses from 1801 to 1831 are on the Histpop site at

The 1801 Census

The increase in population and its rapid growth had caused a lot of interest and anxiety about how the nation would cope, especially after Thomas Malthus's work about population and food supplies.  Therefore the Government decided to hold a census of the population.  This was passed in Parliament in 1800 and the census was carried out the following year.

The second census was carried out 10 years later and the interval between censuses has lasted to the present day.

There were two counts taken for the 1801 census. The Enumeration count, which counted households, males and females and occupations.  The second was the Parish Register count which counted births, marriages and deaths and thus the increase or decrease in population could be determined.  England. Scotland and Wales was covered in this census, and Ireland was first included in 1821.

The three questions for the enumerators were:

1) How many Inhabited Houses are there in your Parish, 
Township or Place; by how many Families are they occupied; and, how many Houses therein are Uninhabited? 

2. How many Persons (including Children of whatever Age) are there actually found within the Limits of your Parish, Township, or Place, at the Time of taking this Account, distinguishing Males and Females, and exclusive of Men actually serving in His Majesty’s Regular Forces or Militia, and exclusive of Seamen either in His Majesty’s Service or belonging to Registered Vessels?

3. What Number of Persons in your Parish, Township, or Place are chiefly employed in Agriculture; how many in Trade, Manufactures, or Handicraft; and how many are not occupied in any of the preceding Classes? 

To gather the data Overseers of the Poor were used (though in Scotland schoolmasters were used) and they visited each household.

Then the Overseers affirmed the schedule in front of JP, being endorsed by another officer of state and then it was sent to the Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, who compiled the statistical summaries.

The statistical summaries were then compiled into tables and published.  Above is the Enumeration summary for Dacorum Hundred in Hertfordshire and Long Marston is given (as Marston, Long).

Occasionally as the overseers had to count individuals they made a list of each household for their own purposes.  Most have been lost over time, but a few have survived.

The following is the number of survivals by county as given in the Essex University publication (details below)

There does not appear to be any rhyme or reason to the survivals and it is pot-luck if one exists for any particular area.  It is also speculated that many more exist.

The second element is that of the parish registers. The three questions asked relate to the numbers of baptisms, burials and marriages 
recorded in the parish registers.  The number of baptisms, marriages and burials were counted, initially once every ten years and then annually from 1780 in order to get the increase or decrease in population.  The information was presented by Hundred with a list of registers used - which was not all of them - given at the bottom. Tring parish registers were used, but Long Marston registers were not.

As can be seen, for population studies this information is very useful, but for family history it is practically useless.

There is an academic description of the pre 1841 censuses at

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