Workhouse Census Records
Like hospitals, prisons, and other institutions, workhouses feature in UK census records as complete households in their own right, with the master or governor of the workhouse being the head of the household. If you locate a person who was resident in a workhouse on a census night, then all the other workhouse residents (and staff) will be listed in adjacent entries.
Many workhouse census listings, mainly from the 1881 census, are included on this website and are linked to the main web page for a particular location — use the Search box at the top of the screen or the Workhouse Locations menu option at the left.
Online access to UK census records is available through a number of providers. Those with the most complete data collections are commercial services and require payment for access. Some, such as Ancestry UK, provide free access for a trial period. Commercial census data services include:
- Ancestry UK
- Find My Past
- Genes Reunited
- The Genealogist
- Scotland's People
- Irish National Archives (Free 1901/1911 Irish censuses)
An incomplete but gradually growing free UK census database is offered by FreeCEN.
The UKBMD website provides links to online transcriptions of census data (both free and commercial). Some of these are for particular families, locations, etc. However, most of those relating to workhouses come back to the data provided on www.workhouses.org.uk.
Some census listings for workhouses been transcribed by family history societies and published in various formats such as booklet or CD — many of these are available via the FFHS GENfair online store.
If you want to search for an institution (e.g. Luton workhouse) rather than a particular named person, then the various online services vary in whether this is possible or easy.
Ancestry UK, choose "More Search Options" and just enter the workhouse name (e.g. "Luton workhouse") in the Keyword box. Instead of "workhouse", you may need to try "work house" or "union".
- One the FreeCEN search screen, entering a term such as "workhouse", "work house", or "union" in the Street field can be used to locate workhouse entries.
- If you know the name of the workhouse master at a particular date (e.g. via the Historical Directories website), you can search for that name. Other staff and inmates will usually listed close by.
- If you know the name of the road that a workhouse stood on, you could try the "Address Search" option on Find My Past
- The 1901censusonline system provided by Genes Reunited and the National Archives offers a special "Institution Search" option for locating an institution (e.g. 'Luton Workhouse') without knowing the name of a particular resident. Instead of "workhouse", you may need to try "work house" or "union".
The 1901 and 1911 censuses for Ireland are available online and free at the Irish National Archives. The entries for workhouse inmates, however, are recorded only as initials. To find workhouse officers, try using the census website's More Search Options facility and put Workhouse Master (or even just Workhouse) in the Occupation box.
Unless otherwise indicated, this page () is copyright Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.