How to research your Hunnisett ancestry

Part 2 - Census Returns

Once you have researched back enough to identify people who were alive at the beginning of 1911 it is time to start looking at census records. A census has taken place in England and Wales every ten years since 1801, except in 1941. The first four were mainly concerned with the number of people and very few returns have survived, but from 1841 details of every person were recorded and these records are an extremely valuable resource for the researcher.

Census records are subject to the hundred-year rule so the latest available is the 1911 census. All the census returns, 1841 to 1911, can be found on-line at or both of which allow you to search the index for free but charge for downloading copies of the enumerators returns.

From 1851 the census returns provide a wealth of detail. The address of each household is usually given along with details of each person in residence on the night of the census. For each person you will find their name, relationship to the head of house, age, gender, occupation and place of birth.

The census records are the best way of tracking your ancestors back through the 19th century because of all the information they give, but should not be used on their own. Just because a woman is shown as a wife or a child is shown as a son doesn't mean they are. If the relationship is important to your line then you should verify it from another source, a marriage or birth certificate for instance. You should also be aware that some relationships have changed their meaning over the years. Nephews, nieces and cousins should always be treated with caution. A step-child was often simply shown as a son or daughter and sometimes as son-in-law or daughter-in-law. Also remember that the relationships are to the head of house, so any sons and daughters will usually be his, but his wife may not be their mother.

Ages are not always accurate and I have often found people who seem to age by only 9 years between each census. I tend to give more weight to the ages given when people were younger as they are likely to be more accurate, except that sometimes parents got their children's ages confused when they had a lot. On the other hand the ages of children under a year old are given in months, weeks or even days, which can often be very useful. Also when working out when someone was probably born don't forget that although in the later census years the census was taken around the beginning of April, in 1841 it was on 7th June. See the list of census dates below. You should also remember that in 1841 the enumerator was supposed to round adults ages (anyone over 15) down to the nearest 5. Consequently a person aged 43 should have been shown as 40. If you are fortunate the enumerator recording your ancestors may have forgotten to do this.

The place of birth is useful as it will indicate where the birth was likely to have been registered and which parishes you should search for a baptism. However, you will again find that for some people their place of birth seems to change from census to census. Once again I have found that the most accurate records were made by their parents, especially if the family moved around, as in later life a person will remember where they were mainly brought up but not necessarily where they were born.

Dates on which each census was taken

10 March 1801

27 May 1811

28 May 1821

30 May 1831

7 June 1841

30 March 1851

7 April 1861

2 April 1871

3 April 1881

5 April 1891

31 March 1901

2 April 1911