The census and family history

Have you ever wondered who used to live in your house, what used to be on the site of your estate, or how long Southwark has been home to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities?

The census lets you connect with your family and your community by seeing them in their context: families as households, streets and neighbourhoods as collections of families.

The personal information shared at every census is kept confidential for 100 years. After that, it's available for you to explore and find out more about the life and times of your ancestors and those who lived in your community in the past.

The information gathered within the census has been an essential tool in gaining a greater understanding of:

  • past populations
  • the way in which neighbourhoods differed from one another
  • social and cultural history
  • re-tracing family connections

The amount of information collected about individuals varies with each census, but usually gives their name, age on census night, occupation and where they were born. This is extremely valuable for family historians, as it provides additional leads on hard-to-trace relatives, and the inclusion of parents and children as a unit can help find additional branches of the family.

You can access the census from 1841 to 1901 for free at the Local History Library, or online through our subscription to Ancestry Library Edition. Ancestry Library Edition allows you to search by name for family members, while our printed street indexes provide information you need to find your home in the past.

Page last updated: 26 June 2017