The first national census was taken in 1801 and every ten years thereafter. The national enumerations for 1801-1831 are purely statistical. However, a few returns have survived on local levels that give genealogical information for some places and parishes. These will be treated below under Local Listings.
The first census of value on the national level is the 1841. It differs somewhat in contents from the later censuses. For details on the time coverage and contents of census records go to Find My Past. and click on "Census Records-England and Wales and Scotland" then select "past census returns-years and dates." Return to the previous screen and click on "Searching the 1841-1901 censuses" read all of the items listed there down to "Census trivia." Information on abbreviations used by the enumerators will be found at GenDocs.
The 1841-1901 censuses are on microfilm at the FHL and are all on line at Ancestry.co.uk. The 1841-1911 are online at findmypast.co.uk Both sites require a fee, but there is no charge when searching at the FHL or using the computers in the Family History section of the BYU library. Ancestry allows you to expand your search by using the soundex or wildcards as explained in their “search tips.” Or you can use combinations of information that you already have on hand such as all the males of a certain surname born in a given year and area. If the given name is unique, it is useful to call up everyone by that name in a given community. On findmypast you can search for more than one person living at the same site, and the indexes were compiled by persons more familiar with English names and places.
For examples of the 1851-1871 censuses used in coordination with research in civil registration, see the FHL publication “England, Finding Your Ancestors, 1837-1901,” pages 5-7 and 11. To see this publication online, go to Family Search
Enumerations with genealogical information from the 1801-1831 censuses survive for some 800 parishes. A good place to start online is with the working paper issued by the University of Essex in 2004 at essex.ac.uk. It is arranged by county and parish. If your parish is listed, check the FHLC under the name of the parish to see if that census is available on film In addition, there are listings for many places dating back to 1522 that can be used as substitute censuses. These are described by county, place and year in Local Census Listings, 1522-1930 compiled by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott (FHL 942 X23gj). This booklet provides the whereabouts of the records in England. However, should you find an item of interest, first check the FHL catalog to see if it has already been filmed.
The following web sites might also be checked to determine what else is on line for censuses: