Search for your ancestors amongst the 18 million people who were living in England, Wales and Scotland on March 30th, 1851, and discover a detailed snapshot of their life at the time - their age, occupation, where they lived, who they lived with, their marital status and many more details about their lives and relationships besides.
The amount of information listed varies, but the 1851 census records usually include the following information about your ancestor:
Place of residence
Relationship to head of household
As well as searching for a person, you can also search the 1851 census by address - ideal for tracing your house history or exploring the local history of an area.
By noting how many households there were in a building, and whether the household included servants or boarders or visitors, you can gain insight into the social circumstances of the family.
When the 1851 census was taken on 30 March total population was recorded as 17,922,768.
The golden rule of family history is to check the original historical record, or "primary source", wherever possible. We have provided clear images of the original census enumeration books for you to view once you've found the right family in the indexes.
When using census returns, once you have located your ancestor in the census, you should then view the original images to validate your findings. The image of the original document will also help you see the household in the context of surrounding households as all the information will be provided in one clear place, as it was originally written down.
The original documents would have been given to your ancestor several days before the March 30th date, and the head of household would have been asked to fill in the details for anyone who would have been residing at that address on the census date. Of course, illiteracy was high in 1851, and anyone unable to read or write would have made use of an enumerator - a literate person who would be collecting the census forms - to help fill in the details. Because of this, however, you may note mistakes that were made, such as name spellings. It should also be noted that many people were often economical with the truth when it came to their ages.
Note: the census includes details of people resident in docked vessels and institutions such as prisons, workhouses, hospitals, and barracks, as well as individual households.
Census returns don't only help us determine who our ancestors were, they can also help to open new lines of enquiry as to details of their own lives and those around them, by giving us all or some of the following information:
Where your ancestors were living
Who they were living with
What their occupations were
If they had any servants
Who their neighbours were
If they had any brothers and sisters
What their ages were at the time of the census
If they had any disabilities.
As well as giving us the above information, the fact that census returns are taken every ten years also allows us to track the movements of our ancestors through time as they perhaps move house, get married, have children or even change occupations.
The 1851 census contains transcriptions and reconstructed images for around 180,000 individuals - available online for the first time - which have been retrieved from severely damaged pages.
The records for the Manchester, Chorlton, Salford, Oldham and Ashton-Under- Lyne registration districts were water damaged many years ago due to flooding.
As a result many were too fragile to be filmed or no writing was visible, but a 14 year project by the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society (MLFHS) has recovered information from around 82 per cent of the damaged records.
The reconstructed images follow the same layout as the originals, and where relevant include details of neighbouring households.
For a full list of all the known missing pieces read our 'Census for England, Wales and Scotland: missing pieces' article, which is available in the Useful Links and Resources section.