Saturday, 17 October 2009

Pre-1841 censuses in the British Isles

World Vital Records ( has uploaded a digitised copy of a small booklet by Colin R. Chapman produced in 1999, which describes the nature of pre-1841 censuses throughout the British Isles. The book does include examples of early Scottish censuses and enumerations, but in truth is much better for English and Irish listings. However, the book can be read for free at the website until October 22nd at the following link:

Pre-1841 Censuses and Population Listings in the British Isles

The following is some blurb from the site:

Pre-1841 Censuses and Population Listings in the British Isles
Pre-1841 Censuses and Population Listings in the British Isles. Colin R. Chapman. (1999).

It has long been an article of faith that the census of 1841 was the first British census to list the names of individuals. This myth, as most of us know, has been exploded recently in a number of important publications but perhaps nowhere as comprehensively as in this cameo publication by Colin Chapman. In nearly 90 pages of text, accompanied by unique notes and references to original documents, Mr. Chapman describes hundreds of pre-1841 name lists (censuses, poll lists, national surveys, tax lists, parish enumerations, etc.), explaining most of them, as far as possible, in their historical framework. He has interwoven simple enumerations of people, even surveys and numbers of houses, with detailed listings which furnish names, ages, addresses, occupations, religious affiliations, and more. Local unique lists are jumbled among national surveys, military with civilian, ecclesiastical with civil.

As logic would dictate, the work follows a chronological pattern, and for this edition, the author has appended, in Appendix I, a county-by-county breakdown of the various censuses containing individuals' names with the dates of those censuses; and for completeness, in Appendix II, he has added a list of decennial censuses containing names of individuals from 1801 to 1831.

This new fifth edition, completely rewritten, incorporates over 200 additional listings for Ireland, making it a unique chronological account of censuses and enumerations in the British Isles from 1086 to 1841.

The strength of the book lies in the fact that the material is laid out chronologically, allowing you to gain an idea of the kinds of sources you could be targetting within your research at a given period. There is a county by county summary at the end, as well as a chronological listing, but for these, you would be much better advised to get a copy of Local Census Listings 1522-1930: Holdings in the British Isles (3rd edition) by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott, which has much better coverage for both Scotland and Ireland. However, based on a lecture as it is, Chapman's book is still very much worth reading. The pages can be downloaded from WVR, but it is quite a chore! After the free period, the book will then be accessible as part of a subscription package. To view the book, use the browse function.

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