Census from Punch Historical Archive

I have recently been making the most of my time by using the very popular library edition of Ancestry, as a library member, via the RBKC libraries website.  In Ancestry, censuses from different years are widely used as a tool for researching a particular address or person.  It’s possible to find out more about how they lived, who they lived with, names, ages, occupations and so on.  It’s a great resource if you are interested in your family history, or even the history of the house you live in.

The first census of 1801 and the subsequent censuses until 1831, were statistical, carried out by local parish overseers and  not many have survived.  It was not until 1841 and then 1851, that names, address, ages, relationship to the man of the household and occupations, where born, disability (blind, dumb and deaf)  were enumerated.

Looking through Ancestry made me wonder what people thought of the census in the past.  The best place to look is via one of our other online resources, the Punch Historical Archive online.  Founded by Henry Mayhew and Ebenezer Landells, the magazine became a much loved satire of social and political life in those 150 years between 1841 and 1992.  What did people think of the census in those years from 1841 and the years after.

Here is a definition of the census from an 1851 edition of Punch, which gives an idea of how the census was viewed, and more importantly, how society was viewed.

 Census: numbering and classifying of the people, which takes place every ten years, when the whole human pack is sorted after the long shuffling it has experienced.

Punch was full of wit and satire and the census did not escape.  Satire of the census was written about and illustrated throughout the magazine’s history.  There are many jokes that refer to women lying about their age – no publication would get away with this now.


Another theme was women pointing out their status as “Female” in the household, where the men were “Head of the Family”.

Punch is a great historical record of the view and trends in society in the past and gives us a lot of information about the census and people’s views on it. If you would like to explore it for yourself, click here and if you would like to explore the census or research your family tree, Ancestry is available free to use in our libraries by clicking here and clicking on the link to the Ancestry Library Edition website.

Hiru, Central Library















Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.