United Kingdom Census 1841
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The United Kingdom Census of 1841 recorded the occupants of every UK household on the night of 6 June, 1841. It was described as the "first modern census" in that it was the first to record information about every member of the household and because it was administered as a single event, under central control, rather than being devolved to a local level. It formed the model for all subsequent UK censuses, although each went on to refine and expand the questions asked of householders.
It was important for early demographic analysis of the UK population and remains of interest to historians, demographers and genealogists, although the information about each person is quite limited compared with that available from later censuses.
Administration of the census
The Population Act 1840 gave the Registrar General the responsibility for the census for England and Wales in addition to his responsibility for Civil Registration. Earlier censuses had been administered by the Overseers of the Poor but the Civil Registration system provided the local administration which could also take on the job of the census.
One of the intentions was to avoid omissions and double counting by taking the census at the same time across the whole country and collecting the data as quickly as possible. The Civil Registration Districts were therefore subdivided into enumeration districts which were intended to be of a size where one person could collect the data from all households in a single day. Some 35,000 census enumerators were appointed to undertake the data collection, one enumerator per district.
Forms were delivered to every household a few days before the day of the census. These were to be completed by the householder and collected by the enumerator on 7 June, the day after the census. The enumerator would help in the completion of the form if, for example, the householder was illiterate.
The 1841 census recorded people's names, age, sex, occupation, and if they were born "in county". Children under 15 were to have their age recorded accurately, while those over 15 were to be rounded down to the nearest 5 years so, for example, someone aged 63 should be recorded as aged 60. However, not all enumerators followed this instruction and exact ages may have been recorded.
Abbreviations of Occupation
The census included the use of abbreviations to describe professions. These included:
- Ag. Lab - Agricultural labourer
- Ap. - Apprentice
- Army - Member of HM land forces of whatever rank
- Cl. - Clerk
- FS. - Female servant
- H.P. - Members of HM armed forces on half-pay
- Ind. - Independent - people living on their own means
- J. - Journeyman
- M. - Manufacturer
- m. - Maker e.g. Boot m.
- MS. - Male servant
- Navy - Member of HM naval forces of whatever rank including marines
- N.S. - Not Stated
- P. - Pensioners of HM armed forces
- Sh. - Shopman
As the first British census which aimed to record details about every citizen, the 1841 census is an important genealogical source. However, it has some limitations when compared to later censuses: exact ages are not usually given; relationships between members of the same household are not stated; and people's places of birth are simply noted as within the census county or not (or are quite frequently given as "N.K.", meaning "Not Known").
Very few census records for Ireland prior to 1901 survive, except occasionally in fragments. Some records for the 1841 Census had been transcribed in various places, however, before the original copies were lost or destroyed.
- Muriel Nissel: People Count – a history of the General Register Office, HMSO, 1987. ISBN 0-11-691183-2
- Mark D. Herber: Ancestral Trails, Sutton Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0-7509-1418-1