Before 1841: the census

Most books about family history will tell you that very few census returns for the period before 1841 exist, and that most of those which do exist are only headcounts: ie they list numbers of people rather than names.

As a general statement, this is fair enough: but if you’re lucky, you may find that returns for the area you’re interested in do exist. For example, Shropshire Archive holds the 1831 parish listing for the town of Wellington, which gives the names of the householders (but not of anyone else in the house.)

The problem lies in actually tracking  these records down. A very good place to start is in the Gibson Guide “Local Census Listings 1522-1930: Holdings In The British Isles” by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott (published by the Federation of Family History Societies), which lists over 750 parishes where listings from the 1801 – 1831 censuses survive.

Another excellent source is the paper “Census Schedules and Listings 1801 – 1831” published by the Department of History at the University of Essex, which contains details of 793 listings.  This paper covers England only, but is an excellent resource. You can search this online for free at

I’ve added these two resources to the relevant pages.

Happy searching!

About kate

Experienced genealogist but virgin blogger...
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