Tag Archives: family history

Key Sources for Family History: Census Records


The census was used to count the number of people living in the United Kingdom. These have been taken since 1801 but it is only from 1841 that they start to really be of use for family historians. With each census more information was requested so they become even more useful. With data restrictions there is a 100 year embargo in England & Wales so family historians were only just allowed access to the 1911 census in 2010.

Each page of census data has the locality it was taken in so you can see County, District and Town/Village information. The road and house number or name should also be included. Below I have listed the years of the main census and the information that was added each time.

1841

  1. Name.
  2. Age (For those over 15, this was rounded down to the nearest 5 years).
  3. Profession or Occupation.
  4. Whether born “in county”, elsewhere in the UK or in “Foreign Parts”

1851

  1. Relationship to head of household
  2. Age at last birthday
  3. Marital status
  4. Rank, profession, or occupation
  5. Place of birth more exact
  6. Blind, deaf or idiot
  7. In Ireland language spoken

1861

1871

  1. Economic status
  2. Whether blind, deaf, dumb, imbecile, idiot, or lunatic.

1881

  1. Language spoken (Scotland)

1891

  1. Language spoken (Wales)
  2. Whether an employer, an employee, or neither.
  3. Number of rooms occupied, if fewer than 5

1901

  1. Number of rooms in dwelling.
  2. Whether an employer, worker or working on one’s own account.
  3. Whether working at home or not.
  4. “Language spoken (children under 3 years of age to be excluded)” (in Wales)

1911

  1. Industry or service with which the worker is connected.
  2. How long the couple has been married.
  3. How many children were born alive, how many who are still alive, and how many who have died.

1921

  1. Place of work

1931 (destroyed in World War 2)

  1. Place of usual residence

1951

  1. Household amenities

1961

  1. Qualifications
  2. Migration
  3. Household tenure

1971

  1. Car ownership
  2. Travel to work

1981

1991

  1. Ethnic group
  2. Long-term limiting illness
  3. Central heating
  4. Term-time address of student

2001

  1. Size of workforce
  2. Supervisor status
  3. First question on religion on the main census form (England, Wales, and Scotland)

2011 (scheduled for 27th March)

  1. Includes questions relevant to civil partnerships.
  2. Other new questions involve asking migrants their date of arrival and how long they intend to stay in the UK, and will also require respondents to disclose which passports they hold

Family History: English/Welsh Birth Certificates


Birth certificates were first introduced in England and Wales on the 1st July 1837 but were not made compulsory until 1864. They are a very valuable source of information because of the data they contain:

Registration District

This gives the county and sub-district the child was registered in. These have not been static over the years so you will need to be careful.

Date of Birth

Just remember this is as supplied by the person registering the birth. They may give an inaccurate date in order to make the registration appear to be within the legal time frame. Or as in the case of my 2x great grandmother to date the birth after the marriage of the parents!

Place of Birth

This often is the family’s home address but it may also be a hospital or workhouse.

Forenames

This is the name as given at registration and may have been changed at a later date or the person may have become known by their second name. In some cases a child may even have been registered with no forename.

Sex

You would think this would be straight forward with boy or girl up until 1969 and male or female since. However there have been well documented cases of children being given the wrong gender at birth.

Father’s Name

This field may not be filled in if the parents were not married. The rules over this have varied over the years but in general if an unmarried father didn’t go with the mother to register the birth then his name will not appear. Where the name is recorded it is the name at the time of the child’s birth and may not be the birth name of the father. If the parents were not married then both of them will have signed the register.

Mother’s Name

Again this is the name the mother was known by at the time of the birth. After September 1911 the mother’s maiden name (where applicable) was also included. Until the 1980s only unmarried mothers had their occupation included in this column. More recently (1984) an extra column was added for mother’s occupation.

Father’s Occupation

The paid employment of the father at the time of the birth. This may or may not be specific and can include “Independent Means”. If the father died before the birth his occupation will include deceased after it.

Signature, Description and Residence of the Informant

If this person was illiterate it will say The mark of. The following people are allowed to register a birth (listed in the order currently allowed by Registrars):

  1. The mother
  2. Father but only if he is married to mother
  3. Father and mother jointly where they are not married to one another
  4. A person present at the birth
  5. The owner or occupier of the house or institution
  6. The person in charge of the child

The residence of this person may be quite useful if not the same as the place of birth.

Date of Registration

The date the birth was actually registered. There have always been time limits on how long after the birth it can be registered. Before Registrars had access to the medical records of the actual date of birth parents were known to change the date of birth to be legal.

Change of name

If within a year of registration the child is subsequently baptised with alternative forenames then this can be recorded on the certificate too.


Family History: Record Keeping


What sort of information should you collect about your ancestors and other family members:

  • Name full name including any alternatives such as nicknames or name changes due to deed poll
  • Titles/Rank if your family member was in the military, a minister of religion or a baronet etc.
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth be as full as possible including county/state and country, if you have actual street address this is even better
  • Baptism/Christening/other religious ceremonies these can help pinpoint Date of birth even if you haven’t got the actual date
  • Parents’ names
  • Occupation(s) this adds more interest to your tree
  • Marriage date/place where applicable – you may find your family married in same church through the generations
  • Spouse/Partners full name where applicable
  • Children’s full names and date of birth where applicable
  • Place of residence with date you can track the movements of your family through addresses on birth, marriage and death records as well as census records
  • Other names if you find other people’s names on records then it can be worth noting them down as they may turn out to be family members
  • Military service information dates, ranks, medals etc.
  • Miscellaneous information photographs, newspaper articles, schools – basically anything that makes the person more interesting or provides clues for finding out more

It is essential to keep good track of your family history data not only the actual data but the source of it. It may well be that a few years down the line you get a conflicting piece of information on an ancestor and you may need to go back to the other source to double check.

Getting started in family history


You can get started on your family tree with no expense other than paper and a pen or pencil so it is an easily affordable hobby to start off with. All you need to do is set down what you already know from personal knowledge and then speak to other older family members to see what they can add.

The key information you need for each person on your tree is as follows:

  • full name
  • date and place of birth
  • date and place of marriage (where applicable)
  • spouse name (where applicable)
  • date and place of death (where applicable)
  • names of any children

By word of mouth you may well be able to go back in the late 1800s or early 1900s with very little effort. It maybe that some of the key bits of information are missing but these can be filled in at a later date.

You can then construct a very simple family tree starting with yourself and moving backwards:

Sample Family Tree

I got this one free from http://www.obituarieshelp.org/ .

Once you have filled in what you and your family already know then you can start to work on the blanks.