Censuses for family history
Helpsheet for Censuses
What do the censuses show?
The censuses from 1851 onwards show the address, names of everyone resident, age, profession, birthplace, marital status, relationship to head of household, and name of head of household.
We hold the censuses for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901. There is a hundred year privacy rule. The 1911 Census is online and is now available in Ancestry Library Edition on computers in libraries.
The censuses here for 1841, 1861, 1871 and 1891 are for Birmingham and a few outlying areas only. If you are interested in other parts of the country, the microfiche copy of the 1881 census covers all of England, Wales, and the Channel Islands. The CD-ROM version also covers Scotland.
The 1881 census is arranged by county; at that time central and north Birmingham were in Warwickshire, south Birmingham was in Worcestershire, and part of west Birmingham was in Staffordshire - ask staff if you need advice.
There are microfiche and printed versions of the 1851 census for Birmingham, and many other areas of England, but these do not cover the whole country, and only give partial coverage of individual counties. There is a complete version of the 1851 census for Warwick, Norfolk, and Devon, on microfiche and CD-ROM.
The microfiche and CD-ROM versions of the 1881 census are invaluable because there is a surname index, an arranged-as-enumerated index, and a place and birthplace index.
The 1851 census for Warwick, Norfolk, and Devon has a name index.
For the 1841, 1861, 1871, 1891, and fiche version of the 1901 you need to know in which street the family was living. Ask the staff for help with using the indexes for these. It is sometimes possible to trace the address by using the trade directories, which include some residential addresses as well as business information.
Using the censuses in Archives and Heritage
The censuses on microfiche, microfilm and CD-Rom are available from the enquiry desk. The censuses are available in several formats:
Microfilm: 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881. Films of the original handwritten records, for Birmingham only.
Microfiche: 1841, 1851, 1881, 1891, 1901
CD-ROM: 1851 (Warwick, Norfolk, Devon), 1881
Printed: 1851, complete or partial transcriptions for some areas
You can book a microfiche or microfilm machine in Archives and Heritage. Other machines are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Available in all Birmingham Libraries
You can now find digitised census returns from 1841 to 1911 on the Ancestry Library Edition web site.
This is the special FREE library version of the Ancestry.com web site which you would have to pay to use on your own computer. It includes England, Wales and Scotland censuses, birth, marriage and death records and UK parish and probate records.
Points to note
*The 1851 and 1881 microfiche and CD-ROM copies of the census are transcriptions, so may include mistakes; you can check the originals on microfilm.
* The 1841 census gives fewer details than later censuses. Ages of people over 15 are rounded down to the nearest 5 years, but not consistently.
Government records such as the censuses are one of the most reliable sources for family history, but they are not foolproof. Some people, especially in 1841 and 1851, objected to being counted, and deliberately travelled on the night of the census so they would not be surveyed. Some people gave wrong information - about their age, for example! Many people were unable to write, and did not know how to spell their names; the enumerator had to guess. Some households were simply missed.
Ancestry Library Edition website is an excellent source of census information for family history. You can use this free on computers in all Birmingham Libraries.
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