What Can You Tell From a Census?

Census records are of the most important things you will review when compiling your family tree, but what can you expect to find from them?  

Basic Details

Censuses have changed over the years, so the early ones will provide you with more basic information than the later ones. This will cover names, approximate ages, occupations, and addresses. As these were reliant on the census taker’s ability to spell, it can be pretty tricky to find some members of your family if the name hasn’t been correctly noted. This could be their first name or their surname. There were high levels of illiteracy among the general population in those early days, too, so the person whose details were being noted may not even have been able to spell their own name to assist them.  

Filling in the Gaps

Censuses will also show the individual’s relationship to the head of the household. Sometimes this will throw up a few questions. It’s important to remember that the census was taken on a specific day. The individual was logged at the address they were at, rather than their home address specifically. For example, if someone was visiting a relative in the next town, they would have been registered there. They might have only been there for a day or two, but they would still be registered at a different address. The census might also help you to log a family’s movements. Suppose in 1851 the family was living in London, but in 1871 they were in Birmingham. In that case, the information contained within these two and the 1861 census might be able to help you to pinpoint why they moved.