Census records are one of the best resources for building your family tree. Read this simple guide to make sure you're getting the most from these valuable record sets

Start Broad….

Being too specific with your search terms is likely to reduce your chances of finding the records you are after. That may seem counter-intuitive but with human error, the old-fashioned tendency to refer to people by nicknames, and multiple other factors to consider, it's highly likely that the census records won't show the exact information you have for your ancestor. Therefore, it's always bets to start broad. Do this by going to 'Search records', then 'Census, land and surveys'.

Start with a broad search when you're looking through the census

Straight away, we can see the options available to search by. Along with the standard 'Who, When, Where' options, we have a few search options specific to this category. We can provide information on Other Household Members, and also execute an address search. Previously on Findmypast, a census search would be a choice between a person or address search, but now you can do both at the same time, and use information about a person and address to more quickly refine your search.

Cross-Referencing (or 'Field Browsing') Your Search

Another key feature of the new search is search field browsing, which effectively allows you to cross-reference your search. For every search field that has a 'Browse' link next to it, you can browse all the possible values for this field. It will also suggest values for you as you type. This is especially useful for spotting transcription errors or abbreviations that may have been used when a census record was recorded. In this example, you can browse by Street, and locate my old street in Sevenoaks, 'Mount Harry Road'. You can then select this, and now any searches you run will be filtered by this street.

You can then choose to restrict your search by one or more census years. To do this, you simply select 'Browse Record Set', and select the Census record collections you're interested in. This works exactly the same as selecting a street, so is instantly familiar. You can also see all the other record sets that make up this Census, Land and Survey collection, which is often useful to understand what records each form will be searching against.

Field browsing means you can effectively filter - or cross-reference your results to minimise errors

From here, you can search and refine as you would expect. That's one quick way of doing a census search. But there is a lot of census information you can search against that isn't available in this form. This is because, in broad category searches, not all search fields are applicable to every record set. In order to access the detail within an individual record set, we have to navigate to the Record Set specific search form.

Then Focus In…

Our most popular UK record sets all have individual search forms that are optimised for that particular record set. To find these, go to 'List all UK records' from the 'Search Records' menu item. In here, you can find our most popular record sets, organised by category and sub-category. For this example, let's take a look in Census again, and at the 1901 Census Search form.

Instantly, we can see a lot more options to search with, including birth locations, occupation, even ship name. With these search options, it's possible to do refined searches, all from a single form. And as you'd expect, every search is restricted to just records from the 1901 Census.

We have advanced record set search forms for most of our records set, and will continue to roll out more as we introduce new data across the site.

With these new search options, it's possible to do very refined searches, all from a single form

We hope this post has given you some insight into how to go about the basics of a census search. If you have any questions, please let us know via Facebook or Twitter - we're always happy to help!

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