Census Returns for Martham

Sample of 1911 census return for Martham

An alphabetical list of those people recorded on Martham census returns is available here for the following years, click on the link:-

A census is a head count of everyone in the country on a given day. A full census has been taken in England and Wales every ten years since 1841, apart from 1941.

The object of the census was not to obtain detailed information about individuals, but to provide information about the population as a whole; listing everyone by name, wherever they happened to be on a single night, was the most efficient way to count everybody once, and theoretically nobody twice.

In every census year heads of households were instructed to give details of everyone who slept in that dwelling on the census night. From 1841 to 1901 the information from the schedules was then copied into enumeration books. Once the enumeration books had been completed, most household schedules were destroyed, although some survived. It is the enumeration books that form the basis of the records we have today. If the enumerator got it wrong or had poor handwriting errors could creep in when the records were transcribed.

The 1841 census was the first to list the names of every individual, which makes it the earliest useful census for family historians. However, less information was collected in 1841 than in later census years, for instance relationships were not recorded; ages of adults could be rounded and exact places of birth were not requested.

From 1851 the person’s relationship to the head of the household and marital status were gathered, as well as whether they have a disability.

The 1911 census is special, because you can view the original household schedules. This means you can read your relatives’ details in their own handwriting and often see personal comments.

The dates of censuses were as follows:

  • 1841 – 6 June
  • 1851 – 30 March
  • 1861 – 7 April
  • 1871 – 2 April
  • 1881 – 3 April
  • 1891 – 5 April
  • 1901 – 31 March
  • 1911 – 2 April
  • 1921 – 19th June

I have compiled statistics from some of the census years for comparison as shown in the table below:-

Census Year18411851186118811891
Agricultural Labourers113 (11%)152 (14%)142 (13%)136 (12%)138 (12%)
Servants55 (5.5%)35 (3%)62 (6%)56 (5%)48 (4%)
Farmers38 (3.7%)31 (3%)33 (3%)28 (3%)27 (2%)
At schoolNot collected111 (9.8%)158 (14.4%)204 (18.6%)204 (17%)
Age Groups:
18 and under490519467475498
19 to 249211097122108
25 to 34145169137132183
35 to 449411713797112
45 to 547974929889
55 to 646973749398
65 to 742343445673
75 and over2218442521

Can’t Find Your Ancestors in Census Returns!

It is possible that you cannot find an ancestor because it is more common than you may realise for people to be missed off 19th and early 20th century censuses. In censuses taken from 1841 onwards, certain groups of people were simply not included. These included those not living in conventional households; members of the Royal Navy on board ship in 1841 and possibly 1851; all members of the Merchant Marine in 1841 and various sections of it thereafter; all fishermen at sea in 1841 and sections of this group thereafter; the crews of vessels engaged in inland navigation in 1841 and 1851; in theory all itinerants, travellers and night workers in 1841 and probably a considerable number of them in later years. Soldiers serving abroad were not included during the Victorian period.
In all probability some people and households that should have been included slipped through the census net. Some of these omissions might be due to clerical error as enumerators and householders made errors in recording or copying. This was especially true of the period prior to 1911 when census enumerators had to copy the householders’ schedules into their enumeration books from which tabulations were done by the GRO in London. But in some areas of dense housing,  it might have been difficult for enumerators to ensure that they had handed a household schedule to every family. In some cases, people on the margins of society may have been suspicious of all authority and avoided the enumerator if at all possible.
The degree of which errors and omissions occurred will probably never be known so we are obliged to take the figures in the census returns at face value. However, in certain places and with respect to certain groups of people it might be wise to view them with some caution.

Source: Edward Higgs, Making sense of the census. The manuscript returns for England and Wales, 1801–1901 (London, 1989). And, his ‘The linguistic construction of social and medical categories in the work of the English General Register Office’. (Oxford, 2004).


Original data: Crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of TNA, London England. 1939 Register (Series RG101), and/or  public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0. The National Archives, Kew, London, England. The National Archives give no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided. Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education.