Updated 2/12/2004

England began taking a census every ten years, beginning in 1841. It wasn't until the next census, in 1851 that data about family relationships was collected, making the census more useful for genealogy purposes. As in the United States, in order to protect privacy, details related to any specific individuals are not released for 100 years.

In order to prevent duplicate counting, only those who were staying at the address being counted on the night of the "Census Day" were recorded.

As a means of identifying census data, each year of census records are assigned a class code as follows:

     Year      Class Code              Census Day
     1841       HO107
     1851       HO107 (same as 1841)   March 30th
     1861       RG9                    April 7th
     1871       RG10                   April 2nd
     1881       RG11                   April 3rd
     1891       RG12                   April 5th
     1901 (won't become available until 2001)

The country was divided into Enumeration Districts which included many places or just parts of one place. A place might be a Parish, a "Hundred" (groups of Parishes), or registration districts and sub districts. All the records from a given Enumeration District were gathered into a Census Book with numbered pages. The term "folio" refers to both sides of a sheet in the census book, where "recto refers to the front of the sheet and "verso" refers to the back of the sheet..

For filing purposes, these census books are gathered into "pieces" each of which is assigned a number and consists of a few hundred pages of census data. In this way, Piece 137 of the 1871 census is identified as "RG10/137". Depending on the volume of data, a "piece" might be part of a census book or several census books.

Each census year has a Place Name Index and a Reference Book. Next to each place in the Place Name Index a number (or numbers), which indicate where to search next:

  • For 1841 this number is the page number in the 1841 Reference Book, where each page lists the "places" covered by one or more "piece" numbers.
  • For later years the number is the Enumeration District number that covered that place. The "Reference Book", for that year, lists the "piece" numbers where the census data for that Enumeration District can be found.

With this organization, you still have to know where your ancestors were on the "Census Day". Over the years, groups have produced several indexes to overcome this problem. The following types of indexes are generally available, (with the indicated color-coding sometimes used):

  • As Enumerated (yellow) (as they are listed in the census records for each Enumeration District)
  • Surname Index (pink) (for the whole country in order by surname and first name).
  • Census Place Index (orange)
  • Birthplace Index (green)
  • Miscellaneous and Various Notes (brown)
  • List of vessels or ships (brown)
  • List of Institutions (brown)

Indexes prepared by LDS Family History Centers, also have a microfilm number which can be used at a Family History Center, to access the specific microfilm containing photos of the actual census pages.


The United States 1880, the British 1881, and the Canadian 1881 censuses can be searched online. You need Internet access to get to this site. (Link last checked on 2/12/2004)

Historical Information about the Census in Yorkshire. You need Internet access to get to this site. (Link last checked on 2/12/2004)