Since 1831 a census of population in England and Wales has been taken every ten years, except in 1941 when the country was at war. From 1841 an increasing amount of information was gathered and this is now available through the Office of National Statistics, the Returns for each Census becoming available for public inspection after a period of 100 years.
In 1840 the responsibility for census–taking was transferred to the General Register Office, and the establishment of the means of enumerating the population, which eventually led to the current national system of civil registration, was begun. Each registration area was divided into enumeration districts of not more then 200 and not fewer than 25 inhabited houses. Enumerators visited each household in the district and collected details of each person residing in the house on the particular chosen Census Day, even if permanently resident elsewhere. The individual returns were copied by census enumerators into their books, and these records provide the basis for the public record.
The first modern Census was in 1841, when details were collected of such information as the address, name, age (rounded down to the nearest term of five years if over 14 years), sex, profession, trade, employment or of independent means for each person. The person’s country of birth or whether they were born in the particular county of the Census was also recorded. In 1851 and thereafter the Censuses sought additional information on relationship to the head of a household, marital status, full ages, the parish and county of birth and details of medical disabilities.
The local registrars selected an enumerator for each enumeration district. Each enumerator was allotted an area of a size to enable all information to be collected on the chosen day Where they were able, householders filled out their own Census forms, but the enumerators were obliged to enter many details themselves and much time was spent visiting each household.
The information collected from each household by the enumerator was often inaccurate. In a period before systematic record–keeping many people were unsure about their precise date of birth. Many were ignorant or confused and made a round guess, some were reluctant to be honest, and the young sometimes exaggerated or falsified their age for employment reasons. People were required to indicate the county and the town or parish of their birth, or specify if they were born abroad. Many did not really know their birthplace if the family moved when they were very young. Rich people often gave London as a fashionable birthplace.
Understanding unfamiliar pronunciation or dialect was often the cause of misspelling or incorrect entries. There was confusion on what constituted an occupation, householders were not asked to indicate their paid occupation, and many interpreted the question to imply their social status. Enumerators were asked to complete this column using only broad occupational categories and inaccuracies occurred. There was often no distinction between employers, employees and the unemployed or retired; between masters of trades, journeymen, dealers and manufacturers. The work of women and children and the recording of seasonal and part–time labour were not recorded in any precise way. All children over the age of five were listed as scholars. All residents of the household were stated in order of status and age, combined with marital status (single, married, or widowed). Wives, sons, daughters, in–laws, servants, nurses, lodgers and visitors were all listed. Children born out of wedlock were sometimes concealed as the children of elderly parents or stepchildren, and the designation of housekeeper sometimes concealed unconventional relationships. People who were blind, deaf and dumb were mentioned, as were imbeciles, idiots and lunatics. Errors were inevitable due to the enumerators making errors when copying the household schedules into their books, and to local peculiarities and interpretation of information.
The Census Schedules or Returns are among the most useful printed sources for learning about population numbers and the residences and occupation of the population in any area. Records from 1841 to 1911 are at the present time available for the public to consult.
The North Curry Census Returns are held in the Somerset Record Office (now called The Somerset Heritage Centre). The National Archive references are as follows:
Despite the best efforts of all involved no transcription can be guaranteed to be perfect. Early handwriting is difficult to read and this is exacerbated by the damage and discolouration of many original documents. These difficulties together with simple human error in typing can all lead to incorrect transcriptions. All researchers are strongly advised to use these databases as a guide and to check those entries they are personally interested in for themselves on the microfiche records available at the Somerset Heritage Centre using this database as a guide to their location.