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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Census Records Around the World
by Rhonda R. McClure

September 16, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

I doubt there is a genealogist among us that hasn't worked with the census records. For those researching from 1850 to 1920 in the United States, the census records are a staple resource. They help us to view family units in a given household and by 1880 were listing the relationships of those individuals to the head of the household.

However, for some of us with ancestry in other countries, we over look this very valuable resource. While not all countries have taken censuses or preserved them, they can be of use to us and we should seek them out. Many times we will find that they have been microfilmed and are easily available through our local Family History Center.

Census records help us to view family units as a single entity.

North America


Canada as the country we know today did not exist until 1871. The first national census taken in Canada was in 1871. They have been taken every ten years since then, and since 1971 have been taken every five years. Like the United States, there is a protective time period before census records are made available. At the present time, you can access the 1871, 1881, 1891 and 10-1 census records.

However, just because the national census began in 1871 doesn't mean that there are not earlier censuses for the individual provinces. Many of them have census records for 1851 and 1861. Many of these records are available on microfilm through your local Family History Center.

British Isles


While England has taken censuses every ten years since 1801, the first census of genealogical value is the 1841 census. However, the 1841 census has a peculiarity in that the enumerator rounded down the ages of those over 15 to a multiple of 5. So a person who is actually 53 will show up in the census as aged 50. Later censuses did not do this. If you are interested in pre-1841 census records, you will want to read Colin R. Chapman's Pre-1841 Censuses & Population Listings in the British Isles (4th ed. Dursley, England: Lochin Publishing, 1994).


Unfortunately for those researching in Ireland, the Irish government has destroyed most of the censuses that have been taken. At the present time the 1901 and the 1911 are the only two that are available in entirety. There are a few fragments of earlier censuses for Ireland. These census records can be accessed through your Family History Center.


Census records for Scotland are available for 1841 to 1891. While Scotland has taken censuses since 1801, the first ones up through 1831 were statistical and contained no names. You will want to search the Family History Library to see what indexes exist for the Scottish census. All of the currently available census records are available on microfilm through the Family History Center.



The earliest census taken in France was in 1772. Those taken from 1795 to 1836 are statistical censuses and do not include any names of individuals. From 1836 to 1936, France has had a national census every five years, except in 1871 (when it was taken in 1872) and in 1916 (when it wasn't taken at all). Unfortunately, unlike census records of other countries where these records have been microfilmed and indexed, no such activities have taken place on behalf of the French census.


Germany has not taken national census enumerations. However, there are some that do exist for specific places and time periods. The 1819 census of Meckleburg-Schwerin can be found on 60 rolls of microfilm through the Family History Library, and therefore you have access to them through your local Family History Center. Because Schleswig-Holstein was under the government of Denmark until 1864, it has a large number of census records taken by the Danish government. These are also available on microfilm through your local Family History Center.


For the colonies of Spain, at least one major census was taken during the colonial period, which covers the years 1492-1825. Some of these censuses are extant and may be available on microfilm. An excellent volume on the available census records specifically for the Latin American countries and Hispanic colonies in what would become the United States is Census Records for Latin America and the Hispanic United States by Lyman D. Platt (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1998).

In Conclusion

Census records can be valuable in many countries and can help us to put together families and begin to locate possible places of birth and marriage for our ancestors.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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