Census Returns
                                                                                                by Maureen Hunt                        

Population census records were first taken in 1801, and have since been taken every ten years. The only exception was in 1941, when we were at war. Prior to this only Parish Records recorded the number of people, together with a crude description or classification of occupations.

The early census returns, from 1801 to 1831, show the number of people and houses - but no names. These do however, give the first reliable indication of the population. On the 1831 census, additional information begins to appear, with a breakdown of the numbers of men working in the main occupations of the day. These were put into classifications, which were determined by the local census enumerator, and so the results have to be treated with care. Some of the classifications were factories, farming, trade, and domestic service. These records are in printed form, and can be viewed at most local libraries, or archives. 

From 1841, the census is handwritten. This can prove to be somewhat difficult to read as some were written in pencil, and often the handwriting was so appalling as to be almost unintelligible.

At this moment in time, only the years up until 1891 can be viewed, as the records are closed for 100 years. Though data from successive census returns are available to use statistically.

The census records can be seen on microfilm at the Local Archives department. This means that a viewer must be pre-booked in order to be able to use the census film. One disadvantage is the quality of some of the films. Often the 1841-1851 census is particularly bad. This can be overcome by a visit to the County Records Office, where better quality films are available.

Dependent on what information is being sought, the census gives a number of valuable things. Such as the population, and their movement around the country. The numbers and ages of those receiving education, the 'job titles' of the day, and those in receipt of Poor Relief.

The census returns are written on printed forms, arranged by County, Parishes and Townships, and in each township there is usually a street order in which they appear. Lists for each census are available at the Library, and these give the number of the film that needs to be used

Only census returns dealing with the Wolverhampton area can be viewed locally. All of the census returns for the county of Staffordshire, are held at the County Records Office, at Stafford. The film there is of a far superior quality to that held at a local level. Copies for personal use can be taken, but cannot be photocopied without permission from the Public Records Office. At a local level, a machine can booked, which will view and print out a page of the census return. At the Stafford Records Office, a form has to be completed listing each page and folio number that is required. It then takes between 2 to 3 weeks before copies can be picked up, or posted, to the researcher.

The following section lists, and describes the information that is contained in each census from 1841 to 1891. Click on the year of your choice.

The 1881 Census is particularly useful because it has been name-indexed by the Mormons and the Federation of Family History Societies. Some of the records for other years may have a surname index. Much work is being done on this at a local level. Many genealogy groups are indexing census records, to make searching much simpler

Depending on what information is required, the census returns have much to offer. But as with all other documents, they need to be used in conjunction with other sources.


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