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The 1801 Census

The very first census of Great Britain (that is England, Scotland and Wales) was taken on Tuesday 10th March 1801 (or as soon as possible thereafter). The returns gave a population of 10.9 million people living in 1.8 million houses.

Basic facts about the 1801 census

Taken on 10th March 1801.

Details recorded for each parish, township, or place were:

  • Number of inhabited houses, occupied by how many families
  • Number of uninhabited houses
  • How many persons, how many male, how many female
  • How many persons are chiefly employed in agriculture; how many in trade, manufactures, or handicraft; and how many in neither
  • How many baptisms and burials in the years 1700 to 1800, distinguishing males from females
  • How many marriages in each year from 1754 to the end of 1800

Details of individuals and their names were not recorded in the official Census returns.

The act laid down that "written Answers are to be returned by the Rector, Vicar, Curate, or Officiating Minister, and Overseers of the Poor, or (in Default thereof) by some substantial Householder, of every Parish, Township, and Place ... in England; and by the Schoolmasters or other Persons to be appointed ... for every Parish in Scotland; ... "

They were asked to obtain the following information for the Parish, Township, or Place:

1st. HOW many Inhabited Houses are there; by how many Families are they occupied; and, how many houses therein are Uninhabited?

2d. HOW many Persons (including Children of whatever Age) are there actually found within the Limits of your Parish, Township, or Place, at the Time of taking this Account, distinguishing Males and Females, and exclusive of Men actually serving in His Majesty's Registrar Forces or Militia, and exclusive of Seamen either in His Majesty Service or belonging to Registered Vessels?

3d. WHAT Number of Persons, are chiefly employed in Agriculture; how many in Trade, Manufactures, or Handicraft; and, how many are not comprized in any of the preceding Classes?

4th. WHAT was the Number of Baptisms and Burials in the several Years 1700, 1710, 1720, 1730, 1740, 1750, 1760, 1770, 1780 and each subsequent Year, to the 31st Day of December 1800, distinguishing Males from Females?

5th. WHAT has been the Number of Marriages in each Year, from the Year 1754 inclusive to the End of the Year 1800?

6th. ARE there any Matters which you think it necessary to remark in Explanation of your Answers to any of the preceding Questions?

(the fourth and fifth questions were the responsibility of the local parish clergy, using the information in their parish registers).

Accessing the 1801 Census

The results for each area had to be returned on a form attached to the schedule of the act, in other words just the numbers for each of the questions. It was left to those compiling the information as to how they did so and some drew up lists of names from which they produced the numbers required. In some areas printers produced printed forms for this purpose and in London and elsewhere printed schedules were left for householders to fill in themselves.

In some places, the 1801 census is descibed as "no longer exists" or "has been destroyed" but this is a misconception. The official census was simply a count under various headings for each parish, township, or place so in terms of information on individuals or households, it never did exist.

It is the "unofficial" documents produced by those doing the count that have survived in certain areas and can been found in local authority libraries and archives. Some have also been transcribed by local Family History societies. The Wall, Woollard and Moring guide, referenced below, identifies 125 lists detailing households, 15 lists detailing individuals plus 5 others for 1801 have survived. The household lists typically included the name of the head of the household but not any of the members of that household.

But remember, the chance of finding one of your ancestor's names in the lists that have survived for the 1801 census is about one in a thousand.

This is a typical example, photo courtesy of Essex University.

A comprehensive guide to available pre-1841 returns has been published by Richard Wall, Matthew Woollard and Beatrice Moring of Essex University.

Some of the areas listed in the guide where records are known to exist detailing individuals for the 1801 census include:

Some of the areas listed in the guide where records are known to exist detailing households for the 1801 census include:

More information

Histpop - The Online Historical Population Reports Website.

Vision of Britain Census Reports.

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