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Source material: Census returns

Census returns - which should be distinguished from census abstracts or census tables - are documents which provide a detailed listing, household by household, of all the inhabitants of every community. The original enumerators' returns are deposited with the Public Record Office in London, but Calderdale District Archives hold microfilm copies of all the local returns from 1841 to 1901, and transcripts of census returns covering certain local areas for specific years are available in the Local History Collection, held at the Central Library, Halifax, West Yorkshire. Later census returns are on closed access for 100 years from the date of creation.


Each census is arranged by township, then by street or building. The 1841 census comprises:

  • The name of the street, house number or house name
  • the name of each person in each household
  • That person's age
  • Sex
  • Profession or trade
  • Country of birth. Successive census returns yield more information still, such as the actual place of birth.


The census is can be used in a variety of ways by the social and economic historian, as well as by the genealogist and biographer. It enables the researcher to investigate in some detail the social and demographic composition of relatively small communities during the second half of the 19th century.


The main limitation of the census is is that it is occasionally inaccurate in points of detail, and therefore needs to be used with some caution. It is also sometimes incomplete, as some members of individual households may have been away from home on the day of the census. Nevertheless, the margin of error in the census is unlikely to invalidate any general conclusions in the investigation of even small communities, and it offers the most detailed and comprehensive guide available for the study of key aspects of 19th-century society.

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