A census can paint a comprehensive picture of the social and domestic conditions in a nation. Census returns are essential tools for effective policy, planning and decision-making purposes at both national and local level. Not only do the results enable the Government to track developments over a long period with considerable accuracy, but they are essential for setting up the provision of health care, education and employment.
The first comprehensive census in the United Kingdom was taken in 1801, and since then a census has been taken every 10 years with the exception of 1941. Earlier census returns were simply headcounts, but from 1841 onwards census forms started to collect personal information, providing a snapshot of the population on a particular night. Therefore a census is a fundamental part of our national heritage and collective knowledge.
For family historians a census is a unique document that reveals whole family groupings and identifies the head of each household, who was traditionally responsible for providing information about each person staying there on census night.
However, in order to encourage people to divulge detailed information about themselves truthfully, the census records are closed to the public for 100 years. The 1901 census is therefore currently the latest census available.