Lincolnshire logo


Introduction and Learning Aids

If you are new to this hobby and haven't used census records before, you might start by taking lesson #9 on Using Census Records at Rootsweb. This will give you an appreciation for the values and problems of using census returns, indexes and such. And you will learn the difference between a soundex and surname index.

There is also a good overview of the British Census and why it is valuable at British Genealogy.

For England, the census started in 1801 and was conducted every ten years except during World War II in 1941. Until 1841, they typically record a surname and a count of males and females in certain age brackets. These early census records are of limited value to family historians. For Lincolnshire, there are very few pre-1841 census records available at the Salt Lake FHL or through the Family History Centres. In some cases, a "special" census was taken during non-census years. Some are available at the Lincolnshire Archives. To find out more about pre-1841 census and special census returns, see:

  1. "Pre-1841 censuses & population listings in the British Isles," by Colin R. Chapman, Lochin Publishing, c1994. A copy is available in the Salt Lake City FHL, call no. 942 X27cc 1994.

  2. "Local Census Listings 1522-1930 Holdings in the British Isles," by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott, Federation of Family History Societies, c1997.
Return to top of page

How was the Census Conducted?

Here's how the census worked in England: Each Registration District is sub-divided into Sub-Districts and the latter into Enumeration Districts containing perhaps 25 to 200 houses. An "Enumerator" was assigned to one or more Enumeration Districts. In the week preceding census night, the appointed enumerator delivered schedules to all households in the area assigned. The instructions were that no person present that night was to be omitted and no person absent were to be included. If individuals were working that night or were traveling, they would be enumerated in the house to which they would normally return after finishing their shift, or where they were to stay at the next stop on their journey.

How were the enumerators selected? In 1841 they were chosen from the "Constabulary and certain assistants" approved by the Constabulary Authorities. Thereafter "none but those who were under the immediate control of the State were employed". This is from the Times 1863 so applies to the 1851/1861 census. Thank you, [Nivard Ovington, 2006]

The census schedule (or enumerator) asked the age of each person on their last birthday. The 1841 census was rounded down to the nearest 5 years for everyone 15 and over, although this instruction was not always followed. A person of 34 was listed as 30, someone 36 was listed as 35. From 1851 on, the age is as reported on the schedule or to the enumerator.

On the Monday after the census night the enumerator returned to collect the completed schedules. If any had not been filled in, the enumerator had to do so by asking the householder for the information. These returns were then copied into printed books of blank forms.

People who were normally away from their places of residences, like fishermen, shift workers etc. were catered for at their place of work. If fishermen were on a boat owned by a company, the company filled in the details of their employees and the boats they were on. The same happened with shift workers. Members of say, the Navy were treated in a similar way and the census was completed for the ship they were on. Also inmates of hospitals, workhouses, asylums etc. were all listed where they happened to spend the night of the census and enumerators had these places included in their areas and were generally listed on separate census sheets. [John Bartlett]

Return to top of page

What is a Piece Number?

Every piece of paper for the census has a Piece Number, although the term is usually applied to mean "what is the reference number I need to find village X in year Y?" Thus, if you are looking for the parish of Crowland, there should be a piece number for each census year that will take you right to the returns for Crowland.

The Piece Number for each annual census starts with an "agency" reference, like H.O. for Home Office, for the agency that stored the documents. For 1861, the Piece Number starts with RG9, meaning Registrar General item #9. The census enumeration pages were preprinted with page numbers, but as there was a need for more than one book to make up each civil parish/sub-district, page numbers are in fact duplicated (same page numbers in one or more books). To get around this problem, 'folio' numbers are stamped on each 'sheet' of paper in the groups of books collected together (in bundles or piece numbers) in the enumeration district. Thus each page can be identified by a code like: RG9/968/16 where RG9 = 1861 year, 968 identifies the Peterborough Registration District and 16 is the folio (two pages) for Crowland parish entries.

The 1841 census is different. As well as a piece number and a folio number, there is a book number. The system works as follows: Given a reference of HO 107/637/9/5, HO 107/637 is the piece number, 9 is the book number for Horkstow and 5 is the folio number.

This whole system was designed so that the reference number could take you directly to a sheet of paper with the information you seek, although it doesn't tell you which side it is on.

If you buy a census index from the LFHS, then this note applies: Each 1841 census index sold on fiche by the LFHS should be accompanied by a sheet of paper listing the codes for the relevant books for each place. This sheet is a copy of frame three of the microfiche. The index gives the reference 37/5. The accompanying sheet shows that "37" refers to Horkstow, piece number 637 and book number 9.

Always note the piece number and folio number of any census returns that you note down so that you can easily find it again if necessary.

Return to top of page

What Years was it Conducted?

Censuses of the poor: In the latter part of the 16th century and the opening decades of the 17th, special censuses of the poor were taken. These determined the numbers and conditions of the poor in particular towns, and often included finding out where individuals had come from, reflecting the close link between migration and poverty, as well as who should pay for the poor. To the author's knowledge, none have survived.

The Lincolnshire Archives holds the following "special" or pre-1841 census returns:

  • Althorpe, 1850, 1853
  • Barnetby le Wold, 1821
  • Barton on Humber par. St. Mary, 1890-98
  • Bonby, 1650
  • Canwick, 1821, 1831
  • Fillingham, Gedney Hill, 1831
  • Fleet, 1811, 1821, 1831
  • Grantham (parts of), 1831
  • Hagnaby, 1857-70
  • Holbeach, 1889-1909
  • Leverton, 1755, 1762
  • Lincoln par. St. Martin, 1821
  • Little Ponton, 1801
  • Ludborough, 1885
  • Mareham le Fen, 1683-89
  • Marsh Chapel, 1838
  • Sutterby, 1700
  • Sutterton, 1859-60
  • Swinderby, 1791
  • Waddington, 1811, 1821
  • Walcot by Folkingham, 1821
  • Whaplode, 1801, 1811, 1911
  • Winteringham, 1811

Many of these pre-1841 census returns only have the head-of-household named and a count of occupants. The administration of the early census returns 1801-1831 was the responsibility of the Overseers of the Poor and the clergy. Most of these were destroyed, but a few exceptions exist.

The 1841 census was the first to record every household member. The 1841 census doesn't record place of birth, but it does have a "Y" or "N" for "born in County." The 1841 census is over 95% complete, although some sections have faded to where they are difficult to read. There are a number of abbreviations that are unfamiliar: FS = Female Servant, etc. For a list, check out the Census_Abbrev text file.

A Surname Index now exists for the 1841 census on microfiche and computer disk from the Lincolnshire FHS.

Excellent quality returns exist for virtually all the UK for 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891. The 1901 census is now being released to the public online at the PRO. See our 1901 search hints for help in doing your online searches.

A Surname Index now exists for most of the 1861 census on microfiche from the Lincolnshire FHS.

The UK census for 1911 will be a "staggered release" starting in 2009. It will start with the major conurbations, but "sensitive" information will be held back for privacy reasons. From 3 January 2012 the public will have full access to the entire 1911 census, including the information not accessible in 2009. Researchers anywhere in the world will be able to search across the fields of the census by name, address or The National Archives catalogue reference, and download high-resolution digital images. The forms you will see are the household forms as filled in by the head of household in their own writing.

David WILSON tells us: The 1911 census is also different in this way: There are *NO* census enumerator's books! All that remains are the householder's SCHEDULES. A double sided piece of paper for every household. Written in different handwriting by each head of household. And the condition of each sheet will be different. Many are water-stained and torn. Archivists report that the papers smell.

For general information on what is in each census, see Genuki's Census Guide. For information on current census data, visit the government Statistics site.

Barry Ruck has a Census FAQ page (Frequently Asked Questions).

Return to top of page

When was it Taken?

A list of when each census was taken (the night of):

Year Date Linc. Population Year Date Linc. Population
1801 March 10 208,625 1901 March 31 498,847
1811 May 27 237,634 1911 April 2
1821 May 28 283,058 1921 June 19
1831 May 30 317,465 1931 April 26 Burned - cause accidental.
1841 June 6 362,602 1941 -None-
1851 March 30 407,222 1951 April 8
1861 March 30 412,246 1961 April 23
1871 April 2 436,599 1971 April 25
1881 April 3 469,919 1981 April 5
1891 April 5 472,878 1991 April 21 584,536

In 1915, the Alien Act mandated a Parochial Census, but I have no information on the contents or sources.

The census of 1931 was destroyed by fire from a 2nd World War bombing raid. No census was taken in 1941. However, a special census was conducted in 1939.

Return to top of page

Surname Indexes

There was no national surname index or soundex created for any census. In Lincolnshire, we are fortunate that the Lincolnshire FHS made a commitment to create county surname indexes for most years. There are surname indexes for most of the county for 1841 through and including 1891. To find a surname index, go to the Lincolnshire Family History Society page, click on their link and at their site, look under "Publications". It may be easier to buy these via the Federation of Family History Societies Bookstore, which allows purchase by Credit Card.

Note: Each of the surname indexes are now available on CD-ROM, That is, one CD for each year (covers ALL the Lincs. Registration Districts).

1841: The Lincolnshire Family History Society has created Surname indexes by Registration District, which show on which pages each surname appears. There are no first names or ages in these indexes. Cost is approx. £20.

1851: The Lincolnshire Family History Society has created Surname indexes by Registration District, which show on which pages each surname appears. Cost is approx. £20.

1861: The Lincolnshire Family History Society has created Surname indexes by Registration District, which show on which pages each surname appears.

A country-wide Surname Index to the 1861 Census Returns for Ships has been compiled by the LDS on microfiche, No. 6025598, and can be ordered in at the local Family History Center. The census returns for 1861 are particularly useful as additional maritime information was requested of the masters of the vessels moored at recognised ports on census nights. The procedure was not used in subsequent censuses. [Margaret Taylor]

1871: The Lincolnshire Family History Society has created Surname indexes by Registration District, which show on which pages each surname appears. There is now a single index for the whole county on disk.

1881: Only the 1881 census has been indexed for all of the UK by surname. Many Family History Centres have this surname index on microfiche, some on CD. When using the search capabilities of the 1881 census, don't forget to review the "Advanced Query" options (from the toolbar) if you don't find what you are looking for right away.

1891: The Lincolnshire Family History Society has created Surname indexes by Registration District, which show on which pages each surname appears.

You must know which Registration District your relatives were in, as there is a separate index for each district. Surname Indexes will allow you to search a given Registration District for each occurrence of a specific surname. Each entry will give you the necessary reference information to either 'look up' the household via fiche/film or 'order a photocopy' from Lincolnshire. The indexes do not include first names, ages or relationships.

Some of the surname indexes produced by the Lincolnshire FHS are now available on diskette. That makes it possible to import them into a database program and combine several Registration Districts into one search tool. The cost is about £2.50 or £3.00 per district.

Please note: Any surname indexes which you purchase are probably protected by copyright and cannot be republished by you to a website or shared database.

1901: The 1901 census can be searched, online, for a name at no charge. However, to see the full page or full entry requires purchasing a "voucher". This service is provided by the Public Record Office.

Return to top of page

Street Indexes

The Street Indexes tell you on which folio numbers each street appears. These are useful if you are searching in a large town. Here is a list of the Street Indexes which you can consult at the Lincolnshire Archives, and copies may be available in other large libraries like the Family History Library in Salt Lake City:

  • 1851 Boston RD: Skirbeck, Skirbeck Quarter and Boston.
  • 1851 Lincoln RD: Lincoln City
  • 1851 Stamford & Bourne RD: Stamford

  • 1861 Caistor RD: Great Grimsby

  • 1871 Caistor RD: Great Grimsby
  • 1871 Grantham RD: Grantham

  • 1881 none
  • 1891 Boston RD: Boston
  • 1891 Caistor RD: Cleethorpes & Great Grimsby
  • 1891 Gainsborough RD: Gainsborough
  • 1891 Grantham RD: Grantham
  • 1891 Holbeach RD: Holbeach
  • 1891 Horncastle RD: Horncastle
  • 1891 Lincoln RD: Lincoln City
  • 1891 Louth RD: Louth
  • 1891 Sleaford RD: Sleaford
  • 1891 Spalding RD: Spalding
  • 1891 Stamford RD: Stamford
Return to top of page

Street Numbers

Street Numbers (or, more properly, House Numbers) and even Street Names were changed from time to time. Stamford renamed many of its streets, retiring some names, changing others. Local councils were required to provide logical street numbering under the Town Improvement Clauses Act 1847 and the Public Health Act 1875. This enabled premises to be quickly and easily identified by the Post Office, tradesmen, emergency and other services. [John Rouse]

Added to which, towns have often re-numbered the same street, after new buildings have made the old numbering confusing. So when your relative suddenly moves from 10 Aswell Street to 14 Aswell Street, they didn't necessarily have to pack upand go! Which also means, when you in all good faith go and photograph today's number 10 as your ancestral home, they may actually have lived in 14. [Liz Davies]

So, the house you find as #5 Wellington Crescent in one census, could be #9 Waterloo Way in the next. Same building, different address.

Return to top of page


A census "Stray", in genealogical circles, is someone who was found, let us say, in Grimsby during the census, but who was born somewhere else. Normally, we would use it to define Lincolnshire-born individuals who are recorded out-of-county, but it may also include those enumerated on ships or overseas. For example:

Return to top of page

Census Copies

There is an ambitious project underway to put each 19th century UK census online with free access. Although not very far into the project, keep an eye on FreeCen, hosted at Rootsweb. They have started with the 1891 census and are looking for volunteer help.

The Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City can provide microfilm copies of all these census returns from 1841 through 1891. You can also order portions of the 1891 census on fiche from the LDS. You do this through a Family History Centre. You should also check the Lincolnshire Family History Society as it has some census materials available to members and non-members. You can order microfiche copies of the 1891 census from the Public Record Office, but the approximate cost for all of Lincolnshire would be over 2,000 Pounds Sterling!

The Lincolnshire Archives have some census holdings, but the spread is incomplete (at last check, they did not have 1861). The 1841 census for Lincoln City and the "county of the city" is at Lincolnshire Archives in paper format.

You can order census printouts from the North Lincolnshire Libraries site, or E-Mail: LINCLIB. Their web site has a list of all the census records they hold and the services they provide. They accept payment by credit card. Costs are about 60p per page. Within the UK, responses are often received within 4 days.

You can also order census printouts from the Lincoln Central Library, Free School Lane, Lincoln LN2 1EZ Tel 01522 510800, Fax 01522 535882, E-Mail: Lincoln Central Library. Contact them first to see if they have the census portion your want. Costs are about 50p per page plus postage. They accept payment by credit card. For locals, the 1841 census is available here on microfiche (very readable).

You can get the 1861 census (copies of the actual pages) on CD from Archive CD Books. Be careful: The Lincolnshire CD contains only Registration Districts listed as being in Lincolnshire, so some Lincolnshire parishes may be in other districts.

For the 1881 census you can explore the Ships in Port, Kingston on Hull, Yorkshire site looking for your Lincolnshire mariners and fishermen.

You can enter a place name for the 1891 census and the Census Place site names the Registration District.

The 1901 Census for England and Wales was taken on 31 March 1901. The population at the time was over 32 million. The Public Record Office (PRO) has awarded a contract to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) to digitise the returns and make them available electronically via the Internet from that date.

The Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City currently has the 1881 UK census available for online lookup at no charge.

Return to top of page

Commercial Sources

Note: The appearance of a resource in this commercial section is not an endorsement for their purchase.

In the UK:

There is an "all-UK" surname index to the 1881 census. It may be at your local FHS, FHC or public library. It can be ordered on CD. In 1999 it cost 29 54p for the 25 CD set, which includes a national index, and a complete transcription area by area. Lincolnshire is in East Anglia and is unique as it is on one CD. In the UK, telephone 0121 785 2200 to order. Or send snail mail to: LDS Church Distribution Centre, 399, Garretts Green Lane, Birmingham, B33 0U14.

In the US and Canada, go to the FamilySearch web site and follow the links: > Order Family History Resources > Software Products > Census and Vital Records. The price is $33 (U.S.) for the complete set or you may order individual CDs by region (e.g. East Anglia) ranging from in price from US$4.25 to US$8.00. They will be shipped by post.

This comment from John Emerson on the 1881 Census CDs: One of the drawbacks of the 1881 census discs, marvelous a tool as they are, is that there are a great many errors of transcription on them. Do bear in mind that the information you have on the discs is actually FOURTH hand! There is a good argument, in fact, for taking the view that even the discs with the actual census data on them - not just the National Index - should be regarded as an index in themselves and the information you find on them still checked against that on the census films. These were the stages of the whole process in producing the discs.....

  1. The people concerned in 1881 filled in the original forms, or if they were illiterate the enumerator did it for them.
  2. The enumerator then re-recorded the information into his book.
  3. The LDS created photocopies of the enumerators' books and these were transcribed during the 1980s and 90s by hundreds of volunteers from British family history societies all over the country. The census was issued first in microfilm version before the CDs.
  4. The final inputting for the CDs was done by teams of LDS volunteers in Salt Lake City who apparently worked very long hours on shifts and, even though there was a double entry keying program, inevitably errors crept in.

For those who want to know more about the census and other records, get a copy of "Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians," by Jeremy Gibson and Elizabeth Hampson, ISBN 1-86006-067-6, from the Society of Genealogists Bookshop for £3.50.

Archive CD Books has the 1861 census for Lincolnshire on CD and has just completed the 1841. These will be the actual census pages, not indexes.

Genealogy Supplies has several census supplies and material.

Stepping Stones in the UK has census materials as well.

T W R Computing, also in the UK, is another supplier you can use.

Return to top of page

Rootsweb British GenWeb World GenWeb

Return to home page.


Last updated on 14-March-2015
Click here to send any questions and/or comments about this site to the Lincolnshire County Coordinator.

© 2002 EnglandGenWeb Project