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Database contents

Select Database contents from the main menu to see a listing of counties by census year with the number of records online for each. Then select Details to see which Pieces/Places are online for that county.

You can also see graphs of progress for each county and year by selecting Totals Graph or Percentage Graph.


Nature of the Search

The minimum information required for a search is a surname, or a forename and a county. However, this is very likely to produce too many results: the maximum number of records that can be shown is 250. If your search is giving too many results, you will need to narrow it down by giving more information and/or selecting a census year.


Surname variations

Surnames have been transcribed exactly as spelt in the census.

There may well be several (or many) variations of essentially the same surname in the database as there was no real standardisation of the way that names were spelt until well into the 1800s. Even then people made mistakes. Also, many people were illiterate, leaving the Enumerator to write what they heard, perhaps an unfamiliar name in an unfamiliar accent. So don't assume that your name was always spelt the same way that it is now. There will always be variations, even for the same person in different census returns. It is really a matter of getting used to, and allowing for, the possible variations of the name when searching.

Soundex

To assist you in searching for surname variations, you can place a tick in the Soundex box. This option will find similar sounding names, as pronounced in English. Soundex is the most widely known of all phonetic algorithms — a set of rules to be followed in deciding which groups of letters might sound alike. It is important to remember that the Soundex algorithm assumes that the first letter of the name is correct. So, you may wish to consider additional searches for similar sounding surnames but using different first letters.

If using Soundex, enter the surname with the expected spelling. In particular, do not enter the Soundex Code itself.


Forename variations

Forenames have been transcribed as recorded by the Enumerator. Our search will find some variations and abbreviations of a forename automatically. You can use the Soundex option to find misspelt variations on a name. In addition, a search for Elizabeth, say, will also find forenames that include Elizabeth, such as Elizabeth Jane and Mary Elizabeth.

Some examples of plain searches (that is, without Soundex):

  • Elizabeth will find also find Elisabeth and Eliz
  • William will also find Wm
  • Alexander will also find Alex and Alexr

To include misspelt versions of Elizabeth say, such as Elesabeth, or even related names such as Elspet, try the Soundex option.

Please remember that the Soundex option, if selected, applies to both the surname and the forename. (See Surname variations for more about how Soundex works.)


Census location

You may search in all counties, but this is likely to give more than the maximum number of results, so be prepared to give more information in order to narrow down the search.

If you select one county, then the Places box will be filled and you may select one Place or none to search the whole county.

You may search in up to three specific counties, in which case all Places in those counties will be included in the search (the Place box will be empty).

As well as the expected counties, there are a number of special counties that apply to census returns. Two of these apply to census location: for those aboard a ship on a census night [E&W year scope?] (1861 onwards in Scotland), either in a port or at sea, the returns were made to England and Wales Shipping or to Scottish Shipping. These additional counties are at the end of the list.

The Nearby places option can be used when you select one Place. Up to 40 Places will be searched: this is a new and powerful feature which makes it easier to search larger counties, and around a Place that is close to a county boundary. You can Narrow this Search after it has run: this is useful if your initial search finds too many people.


Birth details

You can narrow down a search by typing in the first and/or last birth year to be searched. You can also select a Birth County.

Bear in mind that for the 1841 census, ages of adults should have been rounded down to the nearest five, but that some enumerators ignored this. Also that officially the only choices for Birth County were the census county itself, another (unspecified) county in the same country, England, Scotland, Ireland or Foreign (not a British Subject). We will have transcribed any additional information given, but this is a rare occurrence.

From 1851 onwards, we have transcribed overseas birth counties as either Overseas British (part of what was then the British Empire) or Overseas Foreign. Any further details given will be part of our transcription.


Using the Search page

When you have entered the details of your search, it could seem slow before you get the results. Please be patient because at times our servers are very busy.

If you want to amend your search, for example if you did not find what you were looking for and want to just change the dates, then use the Revise Search button and your previously entered details will still be there. Do not use your browser's Back button.


Exploring your results

Please use the buttons above the results to navigate as your browser Back button is likely to not work as expected.

Each column of your results table can be sorted by clicking on its heading.

Use the Details link to see all the census information for the named person plus all the other members of the same household. Also included are the full census reference details.

As with the Results page, please use the buttons above the details to navigate. The Next Dwelling and Previous Dwelling buttons on the Details page allow you to view neighbouring households: these can be used repeatedly.


Cautions

Please remember that the FreeCen database is just a finding tool. An entry should not be considered to be proof of enumeration, neither should it be regarded as necessarily 100% accurate. We do our best, but images may be damaged (even missing) or otherwise difficult to interpret.