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About UK Census Returns  

The Industrial Revolution, the growth in the population and the breakdown of the old poor laws under demographic pressures led to an outburst of social and political reform in the early part of the 19th century. It became a matter of importance to know how many people there were in the British Isles, where they lived and how they earned a living. The 1800 Census Act ordered a head count of the population every ten years from 1801. The information gained from the early census counts was basic and gave only a rough guide to the numbers of men, women and children and their employment or otherwise.

From 1841 the census districts were based on the Poor Law Unions. The information became more detailed and the census was taken household by household listing the occupants on a specific day in March or April (June in 1841) of the first year of the decade. This new type of census was treated with suspicion and lies were often told to the enumerators for fear of what the authorities might do to unregistered and ‘illegal’ residents. Forms (schedules) were distributed and then collected by ‘Enumerators’ who also wrote down the details for the illiterate and tried to check that the entries were correct. The enumerators filled in the entries in large returns which are what survive.

Actual dates that each census was taken were
1841 - June 6-7
1851 - March 30-31
1861 - April 7-8
1871 - April 2-3
1881 - April 4-5
1891 - April 5-6
1901 - March 31-April 1

©2006 Somerset Online Census Project (see here for details).
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