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The 1811 Census

The second census of Great Britain (that is England, Scotland and Wales) was taken on Monday 27th May 1811. The returns gave a population of 12.6 million people, an increase of 1.6 million over 1801.

Basic facts about the 1811 census

Taken on 27th May 1811.

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

  • Number of inhabited houses, occupied by how many families
  • Number of houses being built
  • Number of uninhabited houses
  • How many persons, how many male, how many female
  • How many households are chiefly employed in agriculture; how many in trade, manufactures, or handicraft; and how many in neither

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

The act laid down "QUESTIONS addressed to the OVERSEERS in England; and to the SCHOOLMASTERS in Scotland; Who are respectively required to take an Account of the Resident Population, by proceeding from House to House on the Twenty-seventh Day of May One thousand eight hundred and eleven, and on the Days immediately subsequent thereto, if one Day shall not be sufficient; ...."

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

1st. How many Inhabited Houses are there in your Parish, Township, or Place; and by how many Families are they occupied?

2nd. How many Houses are now building, and therefore not yet inhabited?

3d. How many other Houses are uninhabited?

4th. What Number of Families in your Parish, Township, or Place, are chiefly employed in and maintained by Agriculture; how many Families are chiefly employed in and maintained by Trade, Manufactures, or Handicraft; and how many Families" are not comprised in either of the two preceding Classes? N.B. The total Number of Families in Answer to this Question, must correspond with the Number of Families in Answer to the 1st Question.

5th. 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 Regular Forces, in the Old Militia, or in any Embodied Local Militia, and exclusive of Seamen either in His Majesty's Service or belonging to Registered Vessels?

6th. Referring to the Number of Persons in 1801, To what Guise do you attribute any remarkable Difference in the Number at present?

7th. Are there any other Matters, which you may think it necessary to remark, in Explanation of your Answers to any of the preceding Questions?

Note that the question about occupations had changed since 1801 because of confusion in the 1801 figures about how members of a family should be counted. Also, the enumerators were asked to give more information about the reasons houses were unoccupied, so that the prosperity of the district could be more accurately gauged based on whether this was because they were new houses, not yet occupied..

Accessing the 1811 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 1811 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.

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

This guide estimates that 196 lists detailing households, 10 lists detailing individuals plus 8 others for 1811 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 1811 census is about one in a thousand.

Some of the areas listed in the guide where records are known to exist detailing individuals for the 1811 census include:

Some of the areas listed in the guide where records are known to exist detailing households for the 1811 census include:

More information

Histpop - The Online Historical Population Reports Website.

Vision of Britain Census Reports.

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