Censuses 1841-1911 provide important clues to the relationships between those within a family or household and, most importantly, their ages and places of birth.
Although censuses were taken nationally in England and Wales from 1801, the first census which lists all those enumerated dates from 1841. Rudimentary in format, it does not record relationships, accurate ages or exact places of birth. Rather those listed were asked the question, "Were you born in this county?" The answer was recorded as "Yes" or "No" or another abbreviation signifying a place of origin in Scotland, Ireland or in Foreign Parts. Ages of adults were rounded down to the nearest five year interval. Relationships can only be inferred from the composition of the family.
By 1851, and continuing to later censuses up to 1911, the amount of valuable information recorded increases significantly. We are now provided with "accurate" ages and relationships between those who have been recorded within a household. Most importantly, we learn where the person is believed to have been born.
The census records can be viewed online, usually for a fee, and also at The National Archives at Kew.
Armed with an address where an individual is believed to have lived around the date of one of the enumerations, it should be possible to establish if he or she was living there on the night of the census. It is possible to search the census returns for a whole parish in a rural area or those of a specific address or street in a large town or city. In many instances, the search for the whereabouts of a given individual or those with a particular surname in a certain area is facilitated by the production of a wide variety of census indexes. These range from a complete national transcription and index of the census returns to a very basic index to surnames only.
We now have access to complete national computer indexes to the census enumerations, taken every 10 years from 1841 to 1911, for England, Wales, Scotland and the offshore islands. The returns for 1901 and 1911 are indexed for Ireland. These allow a speedy search to be made for anyone who was living in this country in those years. If successful, they provide rapid access to the family or the household in which he or she was living on that night. With the information gleaned from a census, it is possible to seek the baptism or birth of an individual, having established when and where this event probably took place.