Recording UK Census data

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This guide explains how to record all of the information about a household on one Census return. In GRAMPS 1.0.X this was a time consuming activity that involved repeatedly retyping much of the information for each person on the Census return. Using the extra drag & drop capabilities in GRAMPS 2.X and the Scratch Pad tool this repetition has been greatly reduced.

For genealogists with UK ancestors the UK Census returns are a very important source of information. Census' have been conducted every 10 years in the UK since 1841 (details of all the UK Census dates and how to access the records can be found at [1]). The 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 Census returns are available online at [2] for a subscription.

Census returns are organised by location and each return shows a list of households living in a particular street. This means that once you find a return showing one of your ancestors it will also show the rest their family members living in the same house.

Information contained in a Census return

The Census return for John Martin in 1881

Each of the UK Census’ recorded slightly different information (full details of the information recorded on each Census can be found at [3]. For this guide I will use an example taken from the 1881 Census that shows the family of my ancestor John Martin.

This Census page records the following information about where the census was taken and where the page is located within the Census record:

  • Piece number RG 11/2854
  • Folio 17
  • Page 27
  • Civil Parish [or Township]: Wednesbury
  • City or Municipal Borough: Not specified
  • Municipal Ward: Not specified
  • Parliamentary Borough: Wednesbury
  • Town, Village or Hamlet: Not specified
  • Urban Sanitary District: Wednesbury
  • Rural Sanitary District: Not specified
  • Ecclesiastical Parish or District: St. Bartholemew

Then each member of the household is listed, with information about them recorded in the following columns:

  • Column 1 - No. of schedule, numbered from 1 consecutively per book
  • Column 2 - Name of street, place or road, and name or number of house
  • Column 3 - Houses; separate columns for inhabited and uninhabited or being built (entered as 'U' or 'B')
  • Column 4 - Name and surname
  • Column 5 - Relationship to head of family
  • Column 6 - Condition; marital status
  • Column 7 - Age last birthday; separate columns for males and females
  • Column 8 - Rank, profession or occupation
  • Column 9 - Where born; county/place
  • Column 10 - Whether
    • 1 - Deaf & dumb,
    • 2 - Blind,
    • 3 - Imbecile or idiot,
    • 4 - Lunatic

To enter this information into GRAMPS we will need to record all of the information on the census for each member of the household. This is done my creating a Person record for each person in turn.

Entering preliminary information

Add source

Before we start to enter the people there is some preliminary information that we should record first.

First, we should add the 1881 Census as a Source record so that it can be referred to when we add all the Person records. To create a Source record, start from the Gramps opening window and click on the Sources icon in the list of icons on the left of the window. Now click the Add button on the icon bar at the top right of the window. Fill in the dialog box with the details of the source, illustration 2 shows the completed information for the 1881 Census. Once all the information has been entered click the OK button on the dialog box.

Add source reference

Now the image of the Census page that we are entering can be added to Gramps. You don't need to do this but it can help to keep track of the original documents. To add the image click the Media icon in the icon list on the left of the main window. Now click the Add icon in the icon bar at the top right. Locate the image on your disk drive and then click OK to add it to Gramps. NOTE: Gramps does not create a copy of the image, it only stores a link to the image. If you move or delete the image, Gramps will not be able to find it again. Once the image has been added right click on the image name and select Edit Properties from the drop-down menu. You can fill in as much of the properties information as you see fit. At the very least you should fill in the Source information. Select the Sources tab and click on the Plus symbol. You should now fill in the Source Reference dialog with the information about this page of the Census. Illustration 3 shows the completed dialog.


You are going to need to enter this Source Reference information for every piece of the Census information that you add to Gramps. This can get rather repetitive after a few records. To save you retyping the information the ScratchPad tool can be used to easily copy the Source Reference from one record to another.

To use the ScratchPad tool you need to click on the ScratchPad icon in the icon bar at the top of the main Gramps window. You now need to arrange your windows so that you can see both the Media Properties Editor dialog and the ScratchPad widow. Once you have the windows arranged you can drag the Source Reference from the list of Sources in the Media Properties Editor onto the ScratchPad window. Illustration 4 shows the drag and drop in progress.

Once you have copied the Source Reference to the ScratchPad click the OK button on the Media Properties Editor but keep the ScratchPad open. You can resize the ScratchPad window and move it to the side of your screen so that it does not get in the way.

Entering the head of the family

John Martin main tab

Now that we have created the Source we can start adding the people. We may as well start with the head of the family. The information that we have to enter is:

  • Piece number: RG 11/2854
  • Folio: 17
  • Page: 27
  • Civil Parish [or Township]: Wednesbury
  • Parliamentary Borough: Wednesbury
  • Urban Sanitary District: Wednesbury
  • Ecclesiastical Parish or District: St. Bartholemew
  • Address: 17 Hope Terrace, Wednesbury, Staffordshire
  • Name: John Martin
  • Sex: Male (implied by the column containing the age)
  • Date of birth: about 1845 (1881 – age 36)
  • Occupation: Labourer in Ironworks
  • Birth place: Wednesbury, Staffordshire
  • Attribute: Deaf & dumb

Make sure that you are looking at the person list by clicking on the Person icon in the icon list on the left of the main window and then click Add to create a new person record.

Enter the name, sex, date and place of birth on the first tab (Illustration 5 shows the completed tab). You may want to ensure that you add a Source Reference for the name and birth date information. You can do this by clicking on the button next to the name and birth date input fields. Details of completing the Source Reference dialog are given below.

Adding Source Reference information is the same as for Media Objects. Change to the Sources tab and click the plus button to add a new Source Reference to the record, this shows that some of the information on the record has come from this Census. You can renter the information by hand, however because the Source Reference is identical to the one that we have already entered for the image it can be dragged from the ScratchPad. Just arrange your windows so that you can see both the ScratchPad and the Sources tab and drag the Source Ref from the ScratchPad and drop it onto the Sources tab.

Address record

Each individual piece of information can have its own Source Reference added to it so that it is clear where the information came from. This is useful if you have a number of sources for a given person and you want to remember which one contributed a particular piece of information.

Now we need to add the rest of the information for John Martin. Change to the Addresses tab and click the plus button to add a new address. Illustration 6 shows the completed address dialog. Don't forget to add the Source Reference to the Sources tab as well. Once the address is complete click on the OK button and then drag the completed Address record on to the ScratchPad. The Address record will be reused when we come to enter the rest of the family.

Add attribute

Now add an Attribute to capture the fact that John Martin was deaf and dumb. Again you need to add a Source Reference to show that this information came from the Census. By now you should have got the hang of adding information and then copying it to the ScratchPad for later use. Obviously there is no need to copy records to the ScratchPad if you can see that they are unique to one person and will not be needed again. Illustration 7 shows the completed Attribute dialog.

Add event

Now move to the Event tab and add an Event type of Occupation to capture the fact that John Martin was a labourer in an Iron Works on Sunday 3 April 1881. There is no point copying this Event to the ScratchPad because no one else in the family was a labourer in the Iron Works. Illustration 8 shows the completed Event.

This completes the information about John Martin accept for the implied relationships with the rest of the family members. We will capture these relationships as we enter the rest of the family. Now that the Person record for John Martin is complete click the OK button on the Edit Person dialog box.

Entering the rest of the family

To enter the rest of the family we are going to use the Family view. This will capture the relationships between the family members as we add them to the database. To move to the Family View click the Family icon in the icon list on the left hand side of the main window. This will show a Family View with John Martin as the Selected Person. The first person we want to add is Zillah Martin, John's wife.

To the right-hand side of the Relationship window there are three buttons. The uppermost of these three buttons will add a new person to the database as John's wife. Click the button and fill in the Person record. Remember that you can use the information already on the ScratchPad to speed up the data entry.

Add marriage

Once the new Person record is complete click on the OK button. Because you have entered the new Person as a wife you will now be asked for some information about the marriage. Unfortunately the Census records do not tells us anything about peoples marriage. In fact it is dangerous to assume that just because they say they are man and wife on the Census that they are actually married. How you deal with this is up to you. I change the Event Type to 'Possible Marriage' and enter a date of 'before 3 April 1881'. This captures what I think the census is telling me. You might choose to leave the Event Type as 'Marriage' but reduce the confidence level. Don't forget to add the Source Reference as well. Illustration 9 shows the completed dialog.

When you click on the OK button you will be left in the properties editor for the marriage. Unless there is more information about the marriage that you already know from other sources you can simply click on the OK button to return to the Family View.

Completed family record

Now that both parents have been added we can add the children to the family. On the right-hand side of the Children window there are four buttons. The second button down from the top will add new children to the database. Click this button and add the information for the first child. Repeat for the other children shown on the Census record.

Once all the children are entered the information contained on the Census is complete. The finally Family View is shown in illustration 10.


Census records contain a great deal of information. Gramps provides all the flexibility required to capture the information and accurately record the correct sources for each element. It can be a time consuming exercise entering all the information. Maybe one day Gramps will be able to automate some of this process...


Copyright of the original article: Richard Taylor, rjt-gramps at thegrindstone DOT me DOT uk. The original article was licensed under Creative Commons License -, and since 20070314 the author also licensed it under GFDL for use on this wiki.