Perhaps the genealogical resource most commonly used and the most informative is the Census.
The British Government have made these regular population counts every 10 years since 1801 with the only exception during the Second World War. Householders filled in a schedule that enumerators copied into books. Pre 1841 census returns were destroyed after they were completed and many more recent returns have been destroyed by fire, floods, bombing or to make storage space.
The precious returns that survive, contain a wealth of information, including householders names, ages, places of birth, occupation employment status, address and any disabilities. Using these census returns can enable a researcher to trace back their ancestors to the early 19th century in a relatively short space of time and gather vital incite into how and where they lived.
Finding the Census.
The census reports only become available to the public after 100 years has lapsed, the exception to this rule was the early release of the 1911 census. The best place to start is to choose a subscription or pay per view site, www.ancestry.co.uk or www.findmypast.com are two of the most popular and offer various packages to suit your budget. You may find that your local library or family history centre offer free use of one of these sites, check with your local library or FHS or visit the National Archives.
Ancestry.co.uk holds census returns from 1841 to 1911 for England and Wales, the1911 census is not fully searchable currently and you will need to browse by county or parish, however you can search the 1911 summary books.
Findmypast.com holds the 1841 through to 1911 census for England and Wales on a pay per view and subscription basis, searchable both by name or address.
The Scottish 1911 census has now been transcribed and available on pay per view from www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk although the images are the enumerators book entries as the original returns completed by householders on the 2nd April 1911 were destroyed.
www.census.nationalarchives.ie contains both the 1901 and 1911 census for the whole of Ireland and what is now Northern Ireland and can be accessed free of charge.
Other free sites that hold census information from the 19th century include, www.familysearch.org, the website of the Church of the Latter Day Saints which will provide information transcribed from the England and Wales Census when searching by name. www.freecen.org.uk also contains some free information transcribed from the 1841 to 1891 census of England and Wales.
There are various other free sites that make available information on a individual town or city, check www.cyndislist.com.
Census Search Tips:
The information is only as good as the person who transcribed it: it is important to remember the handwriting is not always easy to read and so errors have occurred when transcribing information from the census to search options. Vary your search input if you cannot locate someone, try searching for a different member of the same household.
Inaccuracies: In a time when many had very basic or no reading or writing skills, information can be notoriously inaccurate or vary from census to census, ages were often rounded up or down and name spelling can change. Use other reference points, members of the household to confirm the right people.
Missing Persons: if someone has disappeared from a household, there can be varying reasons, the individual could be:
In the military-- census returns were still completed for all members of the armed forces whether home or abroad, keep searching!
Domestic Service-- especially applies to young girls and women, many young girls and women would have entered into domestic service and may turn up as a cook, servant, or domestic with the household they worked for.
The Workhouse -- during the victorian era, those who found themselves down on their luck and poor could end up in the various workhouses. So again you may find them not living where you thought.
try if you can to vary the census sites you use, searching on one site may not locate the individual or family but may turn up with a simple search on another.
Vary name spellings: Check birth records, names appearing on the census may not be their birth name. Abbreviation, use of middle name can cause hours of searching to no avail.
Check marriage records, a female may have married and will now have a different surname. For males you may now have another member of the household to search for that might turn up trumps.
Good Luck With your journey!