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Recording UK Census data

Other methods of recording UK Census data

This wiki page describes one possible one way of recording census data. The Census Gramplet uses a different approach and provides some automation to the storage of the data.

The approach described on this page entails some duplication of information, because each individual piece of information can have its own Source Reference added to it, whereas the Census Gramplet attaches most of the information to the Census event record.

In addition, in Gramps 3.4, it becomes possible to attach the image of the Census page to the Citation record (known as the Source Reference below), instead of attaching the Source Reference to the media as shown in illustration 5 below. The disadvantages of doing this are described in GEPS 023 (the alternative method towards the end of that section), and form part of the motivation for the introduction of 'Citations' in Gramps 3.4.


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This guide explains how to use Gramps to record all of the information that a 1881 UK Census return contains about a household. It demonstrates how to enter Repositories, Sources, People and Families. How to link them together to ensure that every piece of information is attributed back to its source. It also explains how to use the Clipboard and "drag and drop" to speed up data entry.

A new method of entering census data is being developed for Gramps version 3.2 and greater . If you would like to try this new method, please read about it at Forms Gramplet addon. You can download it from inside Gramps, using the Plugin Manager.

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 Barry Ruck Census FAQ @ NTL World). The census returns are available online at for a subscription.

Census returns are organized 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 - Illustration 1

Each of the UK Census’ recorded slightly different information (full details of the information recorded on each Census can be found at Gendocs Census page on NTL World. 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 by creating a Person record for each person in turn.

Entering preliminary information

Add repository - Illustration 2
Add source - Illustration 3

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

First, we should add the information about where we received the census record from. This is done by creating a Repository record. To create the Repository record, start from the Gramps opening window and click on the Repository icon in the list of icons on the left of the main window. Now click the Add button in the icon bar at the top of the main window. Entry a name for the Repository in the Name field of the New Repository dialog box, in the case of the example census return it is "Ancestry UK". Select "Web site" from the Type list. Click on the Internet tab and then on the   button on the left hand size of the tab window. Select 'Web Home' from the Type list and enter the Web Address of the Repository ( in the Web address field. The completed dialog is shown in illustration 2. Click OK and then click OK again. You can now see the new Repository listed in the Repository view.

Now, we need to 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, 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 of the main window. Fill in the dialog box with the details of the source, illustration 3 shows the completed information for the 1881 Census. You should add a link to the Ancestry Repository record by clicking on the Repository tab and then on the "Add an existing repository" button (the one that looks like a pointing finger) on the right hand side of the Repository tab. Double click on the Ancestry entry in the list. In the Repository Reference Editor type "Certificate" in the Media Type field (delete anything that might already be there), then click OK to return to the New Source dialog. Once all the information has been entered click the OK button on the dialog box.

Add source reference - Illustration 4

Add media - Illustration 5

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 you will be presented with the New Media dialog. 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 "Add existing source" symbol (the one that looks like the pointing finger). You select the 1881 Census source and then fill in the Source Reference dialog with the information about this page of the Census. Illustration 4 shows the completed dialog. Click on OK when you have finished. Illustration 5 shows the completed Media dialog.

Clipboard - Illustration 6

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 Clipboard tool can be used to easily copy the Source Reference from one record to another.

To use the Clipboard tool you need to click on the Clipboard 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 (double click on the media record that you just created to reopen the editor dialog) and the Clipboard widow. Once you have the windows arranged you can drag the Source Reference from the list of Sources in the Media dialog onto the Clipboard window. Illustration 6 shows the drag and drop in progress.

Once you have copied the Source Reference to the Clipboard click the OK button on the Media dialog but keep the Clipboard open. You can resize the Clipboard 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 - Illustration 7

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 Family (Martin), Given (John) and Gender (male) then click on the edit button (the one that looks like a pencil) to the left of the Prefix field. In the Name Editor you can record the fact the you know this person's name because you have the census record. Click on the Source tab. Now drag the Source Reference from the Clipboard and drop it on the source list. Click on OK.

Now we need to add the birth event. Click on the Event tab and then the   icon to add a new event. Select 'Birth' in the Event Type list and enter the date (about 1845). You may want to add a description to the event in the Description field (e.g. Birth of John Martin). Then click on the Sources tab and drag the Source Reference in from the Clipboard.

Address record - Illustration 8

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 8 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 Clipboard. The Address record will be reused when we come to enter the rest of the family.

Add attribute - Illustration 9

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 Clipboard for later use. Obviously there is no need to copy records to the Clipboard if you can see that they are unique to one person and will not be needed again. Illustration 9 shows the completed Attribute dialog.

Add event - Illustration 10

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. To add the place information click on the   that is on the right of the Place field. Finally don't forget to add the Source Reference to the Source tab of the Event. There is no point copying this Event to the Clipboard because no one else in the family was a labourer in the Iron Works. Illustration 10 shows the completed Event.

This completes the information about John Martin except 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 Relationships view. This will capture the relationships between the family members as we add them to the database. First we need to make sure that John Martin is the currently selected person. So click on the People View, open the Martin sublist by clicking on the small triangle to the left of the "Matin" and then click on John Martin. Now move to the Relationships View by clicking the Relationships icon in the icon list on the left hand side of the main window. This will show a Relationships View with John Martin as the Selected Person. The first person we want to add is Zillah Martin, John's wife.

On the right hand side of the icon bar at the top of the window there are three icons for 'Add', 'Share' and 'Partner' (if you screen is too narrow you may need to click on the small black triangle at the far right of the icon bar to see these icons). Click on the 'Partner' icon to add Zillah Martin to the database as John's wife. In the New Family dialog click on the   to the right of "Mother". Fill in the Person record with the information for Zillah, be sure to change the "Type" to married name. Remember that you can use the information already on the Clipboard to speed up the data entry. Once the Person record is completed click on OK. Now add the Source Reference to the Family on the Sources tab of the New Family dialog and change the Type to "Married". You can now add an event to the Family for the marriage.

Add marriage - Illustration 11

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' it is up to you. Click on the Event tab in the Family View and then click on to add a new event. The Role will be set to Family. Don't forget to add the Source Reference as well. Illustration 11 shows the completed dialog. Click OK to close the dialog.

Now we want to add this event to each of the spouses but change their Roles. Drag and drop the Event on to the Clipboard. Then click on the edit button next to "Martin, John" (the one with the pencil). Drag the Possible Marriage Event from the Clipboard and drop it on the Event tab. This will open the Event Reference Editor, change the Role to "Groom" and click OK. Click OK on the Person dialog and repeat for Zillah Martin, but change the Role to "Bride".

Completed family record - Illustration 12

Now that both parents have been added we can add the children to the family. Click on the "Children Tab". On the right-hand side of the Children window there are four buttons. The   button will add new children to the database. Click this button and add the information for the first child. When you Click OK to close the Person dialog for the child you will be presented with a Child Reference Editor that will ask for the relationships between the Mother and Father in the Family and the new child that you have entered. This is useful if you are entering step children etc. Just leave the relationships as Birth and drag the Source Reference in again. 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 12.

Source View - Illustration 13

Finally take a look at the Source record for our UK Census 1881 source. Click on the Sources tab on the left of the main window and double click on the UK Census 1881 entry. Click on the References tab. You can see all the records that have been linked to this Source. This is shown in illustration 13. You will note in this view that many of the records, especially the Events, do not have very useful names. You can generate meaningful names for all the Events by clicking on the Tools -> Database Processing -> Extract Event Descriptions from Event Data menu. A word of caution, you can't undo this operation so it may be prudent to backup your database before processing. The results of running this operation are shown in illustration 14.

Source View Improved- Illustration 14


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.

See Also