Family historians are very comfortable using the Census returns from the C19th and C20th .

They are one of the most important tools available but there is so much more that can be extracted from the return if, we examine what the government does with the return, after it has collected them all in

    • The amount of material gathered by governments from it’s population over the last 150 years is enormous. Census records, birth, marriage and deaths registrations, provide data that the government then processes.
    • The purpose of collecting census data serves many functions. One of those functions is to enable government and all it’s allied associations, to measure and quantify data.
    • Data can then be evaluated, analysed and disseminated.
    • Before the advent of the census, there was very little substantive information available about the population of  a country
    • The new census data, could report on demographic, social and economic status.
    • The data could be used to show changes over time, which is why the information is collected at regular 10 year intervals.

In our own family research, we use the census material to chart our own families, changing socio economic position over time.

However, by examining the results for the national and local data sets, so much more rich historical context can be extracted.

This is not about finding material for the individual but about national and local derived material.

Here is an example of the sort of information such a data set can reveal:

Hampshire County comparative data . This page contains derived data for the county of Hampshire collected from the 1851 and 1861 census returns. For each parish the  number of males and females can be compared, as well as the number of houses inhabited or uninhabited.

    • For the family historian, this information can help you understand what is going on at a local level,as communities react to national events such as wars and  economic policies.
    • It may provide a clearer idea of why your ancestors migrated.
    • It quantifies and compares data, giving a truer sense of what was actually going on in a parish. How many people were moving in and out of the parish? Was it an ageing population unable to sustain itself? The collated data raises many questions that can help the family historian to enrich their knowledge.

Another part of the census collection process that is often overlooked is the importance of maps and resultant map making, that emerges from the data.

    • Maps were and still are, used in census preparation, during the census process and post census for quality control
    • The Victorians understood that if the census was to have rigour, then it was essential to ensure it was carried out in a logical and scientific manner.
    • Maps of the enumeration districts were hand drawn and used to ensure that every dwelling and individual were enumerated.


Used in conjunction with the census record of a household in your family the enumerators maps offer a fascinating extra dimension to your research.

    • In the post census period, maps are produced from the analysed data, to provide a graphical representation of the material.
    • Take the time to pour over a census atlas, often found in the local archives,  it is totally riveting.

The collection of census and BMD data was a critical step on the road to Britain fully reaching it’s full economic and social potential as the C19th rolled into the C20th.

To explore the British Population Reports click on the link. Browse using locational data. There is a huge anount of material so we will be exploring different aspects of it in other Toolkit posts.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.