Advice on Census Returns

Advice on the 1861 census returns, but applies to most census records. This information is from Rod Neep and actually refers to Cornwall, but applies to all areas.

Rod was involved with ARCHIVE CD BOOKS - old books for genealogists reproduced on CD.


If stating a census reference, always quote :
PIECE number, followed by FOLIO number, e.g. in this case RG9 /1580 84 and then if necessary the SCHEDULE number on that FOLIO.

Note.... I don't use the word "page". The reason for that is that any one PIECE can contain *lots* of pages numbered 10 !

To help you understand it a little more: Each enumerator had a book, into which he made his entries. His individual book had PAGE numbers, starting at 1. The small page numbers were printed on every page at the top left and top right corners.

Each of the enumerators' books were then later bound into a volume. A big book called a census PIECE. Therefore each piece contains lots of separate smaller enumerators' books.

The important next step was that the leaves of the big (combined) book were *then* stamped with a *new number*. Think of a folio number as being a leaf of the book, front and back. These stamped on FOLIO numbers appear at the top right of every leaf. (They are much larger than the original book's page numbers). Therefore a FOLIO number covers what we think of as two pages, the front and the back of the leaf. A FOLIO number only ever appears at the *top right* corner of a page. (Not on a "left hand" page).

By the way, there are lots of errors in the census in stamping on those FOLIO numbers.
Pages were missed - therefore a FOLIO number can span 4 pages Folio numbers were duplicated - therefore they were later hand written in, as say, 34b (for a leaf) 34c and so on.
(That's why, when transcribing census pages, it is a *bad* idea to use "a" and "b" for front and back pages of a folio - but lots of people do it!)

In the left hand column is a SCHEDULE number. I might add, that when looking at a town or city, people often think of these as house numbers.
No. They are not. A SCHEDULE is a piece of paper left at the house by the enumerator to be filled in by the head of the household, or someone who could write - quite often a child. During the following week after census day (Sunday night) the enumerator then collected the SCHEDULES (the sheets of paper), sorted them into order and then wrote them up in his book.


It is a knack. A learned thing. You can learn the tricks.

Place names

Easy (sometimes).
Hint 1.
Let's look at that "North xxxx" that was hard to read on RG9/1580 84
Flip back to the start of that enumerator's book! The first page lists all of the places in his book! Almost always in larger, better handwriting. There, it is clearly written as "North Downs". Problem solved.

Hint 2.
Look at the *birthplace* column for the same place name. Especially at the birth places of the youngest children. Look also on adjacent pages. Somewhere there, it will be written more clearly.

Hint 3.
Let's use that awkward word "Downs" on that page as an example:

Does it appear higher up the page? Yes. Written much more clearly.
Let's take it one letter at a time.

The first letter cannot be a "b" as it is a capital letter. So look elsewhere on the same page for the same *shape*. In this case you don't have far to look! ;-) See the "D" in "Do" (Ditto) above? It is a "D" without any doubt whatsoever.

The next letter sort of looks like an "n". It can't have an "n" following a "D". Look more at the way he writes a "W" in "wife" or "William" ... now look again higher up the page where the same word is written twice more... "xxwns". So we now have "Dxwns" ... Hey! it can
*only* be "Downs".

Moral: find the same letter *shapes* written somewhere else in the book by the same enumerator, where they are in the context of a word that you do recognise.

Have fun ;-)


Neil Wilson 2012 - www.claycross.org.uk
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