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1841 Census

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The date of the 1841 census was the night of 6 June 1841.

The 1841 Census was the fifth decennial census of the population of Britain, but the first useful census to family historians, in that names of individuals within households were recorded, along with ages, occupations and places of birth.

The gathering of census information in Scotland in 1841 took place under the jurisdiction of the Home Office, assisted by the Sheriff Substitute of each Scottish county.

To reduce the risk of double entries or omissions, the whole exercise had to be completed in a single day. To this end, Scotland was divided into enumeration districts, based largely on the existing parishes. Larger or more populous parishes were sub-divided to enable the enumerator to gather all his information within the day.

Census enumerators were usually schoolmasters, who were deemed best equipped for the task. They were each assigned an enumeration district and distributed a schedule to every household in that district before census night. They collected the completed schedules the following day, checked the details and copied them into an enumerator's book. These were checked by the Sheriff Substitute and then despatched to the Registrar General’s office in London. The census information that we see derives from these enumerators' transcript books, not the original schedules, which were destroyed.

Points to note about the 1841 Census:

  • Although the names of household members were recorded, the head of the household was not denoted and therefore relationship of household members to the head is absent.
  • Enumerators were instructed to round down the ages of persons 15 years and over to the nearest five years. Hence a given age of 28 would be recorded as 25, one of 63 as 60 and so on. If a person lied about their age, this, combined with the rounding down, could severely distort the actual age. You will find instances where enumerators did not adhere to this instruction on age and inserted the given age.
  • Birthplace details were less specific than in later years, recording only whether or not the person was born in the county where the census took place, or whether a person was English, Irish or Foreign.
  • Enumerators were instructed to record occupations in an abbreviated form, e.g. H.L.W. denoted handloom weaver.

Help with searching

  • Information given in the census can be inaccurate – age and place of birth in particular can 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 emigration from Scotland.

Census Images
An 1841 census image is a digital image of a double page of the original enumeration book, showing the members of the household in which you are interested, on census night. Be aware that 1841 entries are indexed to the first page of the double page image, therefore the entry that you require may appear on the right hand page on the image, and not the left.
When you view a census image, you may choose to navigate back to the previous double page or forwards to the next double 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 1841 census to further your search:

  • Birthplace information and ages recorded, can be used to look for the births or baptisms of household members in the Old Parish Registers.
  • Although relationships are not given in the 1841 census, it is still possible to infer these from the order given, although further corroboration will be necessary. As such, names of possible parents can be looked up in the OPR marriage index.
  • 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 1841 census image, look at Images

Example of an 1841 census image


You can view a street index here.

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