Family History Research

Census Returns

Census Returns Pre 1841

1801 was the year for the first official government census and these have taken place at ten year intervals since that date. Various parish and ecclesiastical enumerations had take place before this date, mainly in connection with the payment of tithes. Here is an example of an enumeration in 1775 for Ashton-under-Lyne Parish, taken from Aikin's book "Forty Miles around Manchester" published in 1795.

In the Town553 houses599 families2859 inhabitants
In the Parish941 houses971 families5097 inhabitants


 1801 March 10/11
1811 May 27/28
1821 May 28/29
1831 May 29/30
*In general, the above do not contain information of use to genealogists *

Midnight Sun/Mon. 6/7 June 1841 (available)
Midnight Sun/Mon 30/31 March 1851 (available)
Midnight Sun/Mon 7/8 April 1861 (available)
Midnight Sun/Mon 2/3 April 1871 (available)
Midnight Sun/Mon 3/4 April 1881 (available)
Midnight Sun/Mon 5/6 April 1891 (available)
Midnight Sun/Mon 31/1 March/April 1901 (available)
Midnight Sun/Mon April 2/3 1911 (available)

1915 Parochial Census re Aliens Act
1921 Sun/Mon June 19/20
1931 Sun/Mon April 26/27 (records lost to fire)
1939 29/30 Sept (except service personnel for ID cards)
1941 (No census taken due to war)
1951 09 April (Mon)
1961 24 April (Mon)
1971 26 April (Mon)
1981 06 April (Mon)
1991 22 April (Mon)
2001 29/30 April (Sun/Mon)

1801 - 1831 Census Returns

The first four censuses were merely headcounts and in general provide nothing of any use to genealogists. Questionnaires were sent to overseers of the poor and clergy to provide the Government with a set of simple raw statistics:

After the figures had been extracted the original returns were usually destroyed.

The results were published in Parliamentary papers. The results for the Cheshire side of Tameside were split into the various townships eg, Godley, Matley, Mottram, Newton, Staley and Werneth, but the Ashton-under-Lyne statistics on the Lancashire side were not split.

In 1801 the population of Ashton-under-Lyne was 15,632, of whom 271 were engaged in some form of agriculture and there were 127 empty houses.

in 1801 Dukinfield had 308 houses, 7 uninhabited houses and a population of 843 males, 893 females and 78 people employed in agriculture. Haughton had a population of 1139, Droylsden 1532 and Matley 250.

A rare portion of the 1811 Census for what appear to be the Knott Lanes and Hartshead divisions of Ashton Parish has survived. This includes part of Ashton Town, Heyrod and Luzley, Mossley, Lees, and what seems to be most of Stalybridge. I have transcribed these onto this webpage. Please check my main contents page for details.

1841 – 1901 Census on Microfilm are held at Tameside Local Studies

These are all street indexed in the wooden drawers near the book sales and are variously indexed in a set of folders to the left of the film readers. Exceptionally useful for browsing through an area to get a feel of what it was like to live there, also the source to use when everything else has failed.

The 1841 Census is first of any real use to family historians, but unfortunately does not show family relationships or place of birth. Households were only obliged to state whether they were born in or out of the countyand whether from S for Scotland I for Ireland and F for Foreign Parts. This is particularly annoying since Tameside straddles the Lancashire/Cheshire border. Enumerators were also allowed to round down the age of all adults to the nearest multiple of five, although some ignored this and entered the actual age. This census is available to view on microfilm at Tameside Local Studies Library, and is indexed by street only.

The 1851 Census Now includes family relationships and place of birth, which is very helpful in trying to pinpoint pre Civil Registration birthplaces. Available to view on microfilm at Tameside Local Studies Library and is street and surname indexed.

The exception to this is a large part of Ashton-under-Lyne (see paragraph below) which was originally too poor to be filmed due to water damage.

Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society has had a team, working under the direction of Ray Hulley for several years now at the National Archives in London, trying various methods to recapture as much information as possible for this part of Ashton and other districts in Manchester which were also damaged. Ray was later given permission to use UV light and the capture rate increased dramatically. The unfilmed census (National Archives reference HO 107/2233) covers the following areas - Knott Lanes sub-district together with Ashton Town, Portland and Market Wards. Ninety six percent of the 18,801 population in the above districts has now been recovered from the damaged returns.

Visit Ray Hulley's website for details for details of the addresses which still are missing and unrecoverable.

Manchester and Lancs FHS now have an on-line index to the Manchester and Ashton-u-Lyne 1851 unfilmed census via their website, which is then available via at Find My Past.

Ancestry have also filmed their own set of 1851 previously unfilmed records.

Census on CD Rom at Tameside Local Studies

Census Returns to Purchase on CD Rom

Various organisations now publish copies of original census data on CD:

Census Returns On-line

Ancestry I was rather against subscription websites at first, but now don't seem to be able to live without them. There are now several levels of subscription. All census records 1841-1921 are now searchable on-line.

Find My Past Is now offers the complete census returns 1841-1921. FMP supposedly has the most accurate transcriptions: they are also the only website which allows address as well as surname searches. Find my Past also have the whole set of Scottish census record transcriptions 1841-1901. The Scottish GRO will not allow access to original images.

The Genealogist S & N Genealogy Supplies now has the full 1841-1901 searchable on-line. Their Diamond subscription currently costs £119.45.

Family Search The whole of the 1881 census – this was the very first census to go on-line. They also have indexes to all other census returns but no images just a link through to Find My Past.

FreeCen volunteer census indexing site on the lines of FreeBMD. Excellent Scottish coverage and some counties e.g. Cornwall and Wiltshire are almost complete. Have a look to see what there is now

1911 Census

The 1911 Census images are completely different from those which went before. Each return is the actual form completed by your ancestor in his/her own handwriting. The only enumerators’ marks seem to be statistical numbers given to occupations in green and mistakes corrected in red. Sensitive information in the last column is blanked out and those returns for institutions ie mental hospitals will not be issued until the formal launch in 2012. I love the way people have had to say where they work, the number of rooms in their house and married women are asked to show how many children they have had and if any have not survived.

The 1921 Census became available this year and the first to release it was Find My Past and later via Ancestry. I still prefer to access via Find My Past because of the extra information you can download in addition to the main census image. This time the questions no longer ask how long you have been married and how many children both alive and thise who have died, but the plus this time is that you now have detials of where your ancestor worked.

Some Pitfalls when using Census Returns.

Transcription Errors - Even with the best will in the world everyone is open to human error and it can be extraordinarily difficult sometimes to read some names and places on the enumerators' census sheets; even if you are familiar with local names and places. How much more difficult is it then for transcribers outside these shores when they also have targets to meet. You must start to think laterally and use soundex or wildcard search techniques. Despite trying everything including using siblings or spouses forenames, some people refuse to be found.

Age Differences - Remember that your ancestors were human and could lie about their age, especially when one member of a couple was much older than the other, and they had to continue this subterfuge on census night. Sometimes people born before civil registration only had a vague idea of when they were born or how old they were. Remember that the information was only as good as the person giving it to the census enumerator, and that on the 1841 census, the enumerator could round the age down by as much as 4 years.

Birth Places - You might find that your ancestor gave three separate places on separate census returns. They might give the name of the first place they remember living, the nearest big town or the name of the actual village or any name they thought the enumerator might be familiar with.

This page up-dated March 2024

Home | Contents | Local Links | Useful Addresses | Family History Links | Forum | Contact
© Copyright:all rights reserved: G J Oliver 2008 - up-dated March 2024
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape