Census returns are useful for family history research as they cover the whole of Scotland. They can confirm details or provide further information on people such as names, ages, occupations, etc., which can help you build a more detailed picture of your ancestors.
The General Register Office for Scotland carries out the census every 10 years. You can access census records from 1841 to 1901 on the Scotland's People website, for a fee. Some free census data is also available at FreeCEN.
Searching the census
Census records are closed for 100 years, so the 1911 census will not become available until after 2011. To search the census from 1841-1871 you need to have an idea of where your ancestors lived at the time the census was taken as the records are arranged by address. However, from 1881-1901 there is an index of names.
Census and statistics at NLS
We hold a copy of the full census for 1881, complete with name index, on CD-ROM. It covers:
- England, Scotland and Wales
- Channel Islands
- Isle of Man
- The Royal Navy.
You can consult this resource in our General Reading Room.
We also hold many of the indexes to the census for 1841, 1851 and 1861 published by local family history societies in Scotland. You can find details of these in the main catalogue. Search either by title or keyword — for example, 'keyword anywhere' search using +census +index +highland will return results containing all the census indexes produced by the Highland Family History Society. (Handy hint: Using the plus sign this way in the simple search helps to narrow your search.)
There are copies of the statistical information gathered from the censuses in our official publications collections. Although it does not include details of people, it can be useful for putting together a 'picture' of social life in Scotland at a particular time.