What have the Romans ever done for us?

That seminal Life of Brian question. Well apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health… Reg and the rest didn’t spot the census, between 550 BC and AD 15 they had one every 5 years. But thousands of years before that the Babylonians recorded censuses. Closer to home Senchus fer n-Alban is a brief insight into the Dál Riada of the middle 6 and 7th centuries. William the Conqueror commissioned the Domesday Book begun in 1085 to take stock of his new land. As in the earlier collations the purpose was to see what resources were available, soldiers, money, land and food etc. The Compton census of the 17th century looked to the religious observance, keeping tabs of the recalcitrant Catholics. Censuses were for the people in power to monitor what was going on.

In the British Isles.
Censuses were produced every 10 years from 1801. The 1801 census noted
• Houses: Inhabited, By how many families occupied, or Uninhabited
• Persons: Males, Females
• Occupations: Persons chiefly employed in agriculture, Persons chiefly employed in Trade, Manufactures, or Handicraft, and All other Persons not comprised in the two preceding Classes
• Total of persons: England, Wales, Scotland, Army, Navy, Seamen and Convicts
1821 and 1831 looked for the same, so finding an ancestor is well nigh impossible.

From 1841 however in response to the 1840 Population act, more questions were asked, and names were included. Viz.

• Address
• Surname and first name – (If, as happened in lodging-houses, hotels and inns, a person who slept there the night before went away early and the name was not known, “n.k.” was written where the name should have been.
• Age – correct if 15 or under, but rounded down to nearest five years if over 15
• Sex – indicated by the column in which the age is recorded
• Profession, trade, employment or of independent means – Occupations were recorded as abbreviations, e.g., Ag. Lab. (agricultural labourer), Coal M (coal miner) or H.L.W. (handloom weaver).
• Born in the county of the census – Yes, No or Not Known (NK)
• Born on the island of the census – Yes, No or Not Known (NK) – for the Channel Islands and Isle of Man only (took the place of the county question)
• Born in the country of the census (Yes or No, or sometimes S for Scotland, E for England and Wales, I for Ireland or F for Foreign Parts)
There are missing parishes from this census, so beware!

1851 saw more information.

• Address
• Names -surname and first name, (sometimes middle name or initial were given)
• Age (exact)
• Occupation
• Born (parish and county)
• Born (country) – name of country given
• Relationship to head of household
• Condition as to marriage – married, single, widowed, widower
• Disability – ‘blind, or deaf-and-dumb’
Missing areas from this census are Salford and some other areas of Manchester.

From 1861 to 1901 the format was generally:

• Full address
• Names -surname and first name, and sometimes middle name or initial
• Relationship to Head of Household
• Marital status
• Age (last birthday)
• Sex
• Occupation (or source of income)
• County and parish of birth (if born in England or Wales)
• Country of birth (if born outside England or Wales)
• Medical disabilities and infirmities
• Language spoken (in Wales & Monmouth from 1891; Isle of Man, from 1901)
• Number of rooms occupied if under five (from 1891)

The 1911 census is often known as the fertility census, in England and Wales the following information was gleaned:

• Number of persons in house
• For women who were married at the time of the census, duration of the current marriage
• For women who were married at the time of the census, number of children born alive to the present marriage
• For women who were married at the time of the census, number of children still living who were born alive to the present marriage
• For women who were married at the time of the census, number of children who were born alive to the present marriage who are now dead
• Industry or service with which worker is connected
You can also see signatures on this census, a direct link to the past I think.
Finally for now the 1939 register has become available and can be viewed through subscription sites such as Ancestry, and FindMyPast.

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