Why can't I find my ancestor?

Transcription errors and omissions

Because the documents transcribed were handwritten by each individual head of household there is a wide variety in the quality and condition of the writing. There are inevitably some errors in the transcription of the census, which result in spelling errors, although the 1911 census has exceeded the accuracy target of 98.5 per cent. If you see an error in the transcription you can report it via the ‘report error’ button on the transcript page.

If you are unable to find a person or address with the spelling you have, try a wildcard search

Missing and damaged volumes

All of the original household pages have survived, but some of the Enumerators’ Summary books (RG78s) are missing from the archives.

This means that they will never be available online, and the original household page will be the only page that you receive when you pay for an image.

It also means that in a small number of cases you will not be able to locate a household through the ‘residential place’ field by using certain names such as the civil parish, as these were transcribed from the enumerators' summary books to power the search function.

You should still be able to locate the original household page through the other search fields.

View a list of the affected counties and registration sub-districts.

Water damage

The census sustained water damage many years ago, before the documents were transferred to The National Archives. This has made the text on a very small number of household pages illegible and we have been unable to transcribe them. In other cases, you will be able to find the original household page, but the document will inevitably be of poorer quality.

Incorrect names

Bad spelling It is possible that the householder spelled a name incorrectly on the household form, especially if the person you are looking for was not a member of the family, such as a lodger or servant. Or it could be the spelling you have obtained from another source is wrong.

Diminutives, nicknames and name changes It was not uncommon for people to be known by a diminutive name or nickname entirely different to that filled in on the form. So, for example, your great-great grandmother, who everyone knew as Polly, might actually have been christened and named on the census as Mary; and your great uncle Jack's birth name might have been John.

Also, it was common for immigrants to anglicise their names, so the Polish writer Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski, is listed on the 1911 census as Joseph Conrad.

Other people who changed their names included bigamists and others who wished to avoid being traced by the authorities.

If you are not sure of the spelling of a name, try using the variants search or wildcard search.

Birth year

Only the age was required on the census; the date of birth that is listed in the transcript has been calculated from the age that was given. The birth year has constraints of +/- two years, so if you are unable to find someone through date of birth, try putting in their age instead.

It was very common for people to lie about their age on the census, so even if you have other official documentation that states their age, you should bear in mind that this may not agree with the census form.

Missing people

By far the biggest cause of people missing from the 1911 census was civil disobedience.

The suffragettes As part of the protest against the government’s continued refusal to grant women the vote, the suffragettes organised a mass boycott of the census. Exact numbers will never be known, but it is estimated that thousands of women may be missing from the 1911 census. Many women made sure that they stayed away from the family home all night, and were not listed on the census at all. In such cases, they will simply be untraceable via the census.

In other cases either the woman or her husband (if he was head of the household) refused to list the female household members on the form. Sometimes, the presence of females in the house is indicated by a statement notifying the enumerator of their refusal to complete the census, or by a protest slogan on the form; but the number of females and their personal details were not recorded.

Other people may simply not have been at home, or may have been hiding for other reasons and will not be included in the enumerator's records.

People at other addresses

A census is taken at an address, not specifically of a family or household. If individuals were visiting friends or relatives that evening, they may, however, be included in the census at that particular address. Many people, particularly young, unmarried women, were in service and may be found at the residence of their employers.

Others, such as sailors, may have been on board ship, and will be listed under the ship’s name. Medical staff in hospitals, wardens in prisons, and night-workers in factories would be recorded at their work rather than home address.

Asylums, prisons and similar institutions

Patients or inmates held in institutions such as asylums and prisons were often enumerated solely by the first letters of their first and last names. For example, ‘John Smith’ would be recorded as 'J.S.'. Unfortunately, this makes finding these ancestors on the census practically impossible.

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