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What are census records?

The census records information on the population and has been taken every ten years since 1801, with the exception of 1941. The returns of most use to the family historian are those from 1841 onwards. Records may only be inspected after 100 years, so the census returns presently available for public scrutiny are 1841-1911.

From 1861, the gathering of Scottish census material has been the responsibility of the National Records of Scotland, which currently holds the census records for all Scotland. Online access to the indexes and images for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 census returns is available here on ScotlandsPeople. You may also view transcripts of the 1881 (LDS) census.

The census is essentially a snapshot of the people in a household on a given night and as such can provide details on a particular family and anyone else who happens to be in the house at the time, for example, servants, lodgers, visitors. Census information can be used, not only to further your search for direct ancestors, but also to broaden your knowledge of the wider family and to bridge the gap between statutory and OPR records. They can also give an indication of how the family lived, for example, recording how many rooms with one or more windows the dwelling contained. Geographic mobility can be tracked through the given birthplaces, and social mobility through addresses and occupations.

Each census enumerator was assigned a specific area to cover and distributed a schedule to every household in that area in the days running up to census night. He then collected them the following day, checked the details and copied them into an enumerator's book. He returned the book and the schedules to the local registrar who in turn checked them and sent them to the Census Office. The census information that we see derives from the enumerators' books, not the original schedules, which were destroyed.

Census Dates: 6 June 1841, 30 March 1851, 7 April 1861, 2 April 1871, 3 April 1881, 5 April 1891, 31 March 1901 and 2 April 1911.

For information on what you might expect to find on a census record, look at Images

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