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1851 Census

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The date of the 1851 census was the night of 30 March 1851.

The gathering of census information in Scotland in 1851 took place under the jurisdiction of the Home Office, and was organised by the sheriffs and chief magistrates. All subsequent censuses have been conducted by the office of the Registrar General for Scotland, established under the 1854 Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act.

Census enumerators were appointed and assigned a specific area to cover, distributing a schedule to every household in that area before census night. They then collected the completed schedules the following day, checked the details and copied them into an enumerator's book. The census information that we see derives from the enumerators' transcript books, not the original schedules, which were destroyed.

More detailed information appeared in the 1851 census compared to that of 1841:

  • Households were given a schedule number, making it easier to determine the extent of each household.
  • Relationship to the head of the family was now shown.
  • The given age of each person was recorded, instead of adult ages being rounded down to the nearest 5 years.
  • The Birthplace column was more detailed - schedules included place and parish of birth, instead of simply recording whether or not a person was born in the county in which the census took place, or whether they were English, Irish or Foreign.
  • Condition was recorded. i.e. whether married, single, widowed, widower.
  • A column was added inquiring Whether Blind or Deaf and Dumb.

Help with searching

  • Information given in the census can be inaccurate – age, place of birth, even recorded relationship to head of household can all be unreliable, either by accident or by design. For example, sometimes a person did not know their correct age or was not always honest about it!
  • Since the census recorded those in a particular household on census night, the person you are looking for may be missing from home because they were living and working elsewhere, staying with relatives, in an institution, hospital, prison, at sea, etc. and either recorded there or not at all.
  • Married women were generally recorded by their married name in the census, but it is not uncommon for the maiden name to be used.
  • A widow might also have reverted back to her maiden name so you should check for both.
  • Children might have taken the name of the stepfather if the mother remarried.
  • The family name may have been altered after immigration to or emigration from Scotland or migration from the Highlands to the Lowlands.

Census Images
An 1851 census image is a digital image of a page of the original enumeration book, showing the members of the household in which you are interested, on census night. When you view a census image, you may choose to navigate back to the previous page or forwards to the next page of that census enumeration book. Each navigation will cost 5 credits, unless it has been previously viewed.

Header Page
At the beginning of each enumeration book, the enumerator described in detail the area covered by the book. When you view a census image, you may also choose to view, at no extra cost, the header page of the enumeration book in which that particular entry can be found.

Use the information you find in the 1851 census to further your search:

  • birthplaces and ages recorded can be used to look for the births or baptisms of family members in the Old Parish Registers
  • names of parents can be looked up in the marriage index.
  • disappearance of an elderly relative or a young child between census years might indicate a death to be pursued.
  • a woman might return to her family home for her first confinement, therefore the given birthplace of the eldest child might be an indication of where her parents are living.

For a detailed breakdown of what you might expect to find on an 1851 census image, look at Images

Example of an 1851 census image

You can view a street index here.

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