Getting More From the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM

A version of this article first appeared in the January 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine

By Mark Howells

Important Update Information Regarding This Article

December 1, 2000

The LDS Church has now made available their Resource File Viewer, version 3.0. This software product allows you to search the 1881 British Census discs and other LDS data products in the same manner as described below using Folio Views. The "Advanced Queries" feature of Resource File Viewer 3.0 allows for all word searches for any data contained on the data discs.

The 1881 British Census was sold with an older version of the Resource File Viewer - Version 2.0.

The advantage of the Resource File Viewer version 3.0 over Folio Views is one of cost. Resource File Viewer costs US$6.50 compared to US$149.00 for Folio Views.

When opening the 1881 Census data discs using Resource File Viewer 3.0, the "Advanced Queries" is found under the "Search" menu and then under "Neighbors - Advanced Queries".

Resource File Viewer, version 3.0 also comes as part of the LDS' Mormon Immigration Index CD-ROM product and the Western Europe Vital Records CD-ROM product. So one option is to buy one of the above products and use the accompying copy of the Resource File Viewer 3.0 you receive with the data discs to search the 1881 British Census discs. Note that the price of the Mormon Immigration Index is slightly less than purchasing the Resource File Viewer 3.0 on its own.

The Resource File Viewer 3.0 may be purchased online from the LDS Church or from your nearest LDS Distribution Center. Visit the NFHS Internet Branch's web page on the 1851 British Census for Distribution Center location and contact information for various countries around the world.

A big thank you to Steve Archer of Archer Software for sharing the news of this new feature in the Resource File Viewer. And of course, a HUGE thank you to the LDS Church's Family History Department for continuing to improve the tools they so graciously share with us.

Genealogists want it all. And we want it yesterday. The relentless cadence of the march of time is always in our ears reminding us that our research is limited to a sub-set of our given span of years. Perhaps because we look into the past through multiple generations, our sense of urgency is more acute. Our hearing is heightened to the ticking of the clock. "So many ancestors, so little time".

When presented with a new research tool, we approach it with a joy verging on avarice. We collect dead relatives the way that a miser collects money. Once obtained, they are held dear. Any finding aid which makes their collection easier is like compound interest on a bank account. What we already know about our ancestors is used as leverage to find out more. The faster our knowledge of our forebears increases, the better.

Many of us have delved into the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM (see the July 1999 issue of Family Tree Magazine, page 29) with a vigor bordering on the obsessive. Finally, we were be able to find that 3rd cousin twice removed who left the village. We could determine why great great grandmother was not listed in the household with her family when the enumerator picked up the form. Ancestors who disappeared into the great metropolis of London might finally be located.


Those of us who were fortunate enough to have found the previously-released 1851 British Census on CD-ROM of use in our research were seriously spoiled. For the counties of Devon, Warwickshire, and Norfolk, we had at our fingertips the ability to search this single disc finding aid in a multitude of ways. Not only through the standard search window, but also by using the Query function provided on the 1851 CD-ROM, we could do a keyword search on ANY element of data on the entire disc. Searching by occupation was child's play. Looking for the name of a school or workhouse? Just use the Query function to search by the institution's name. Want to locate members of a particular regiment in any of the three counties? A keyword search via the Query function would allow for it.

Researchers in the three counties covered by the 1851 pilot product for the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM saw the potential for great advances in our research when a similar Query function was made available on an entire national census. When the 1881 product was released, we ordered our copies, pestered the postman for delivery, and triumphantly loaded the software when it arrived.

Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud

Oh, the disappointment when we discovered that the 1881 product did not mirror the capabilities of the 1851 disc! No Query function! No searching for any keyword! Being limited to searching by given name, last name, birth year, birthplace, and census place only (see Figure 1) was a cruel let down.

Figure 1: 1881 Census (Lancashire disc 1)  Individual Search Window

Figure 1: 1881 Census (Lancashire disc 1) Individual Search Window

Don't think us ungrateful. Every genealogist who uses the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM owes their thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who transcribed the data and the efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for providing the results at near-giveaway prices. But to have such a vast amount of data 6.7 million households sitting on the discs yet inaccessible for general searches was tantamount to torture.

A Taxing Problem

While enduring this torture, my personal research had driven me to need access to the Occupation field on the 1881 Census discs. My ARIS ancestors came from a proud family of Excise Officers. The Victorian Excise (later Inland Revenue) service suffered from a healthy amount of nepotism in spite of their strict system of examinations and qualifications required to enter the service. Several of my 3rd great grandfather's sons became Excise Officers and were scattered around the United Kingdom in their official postings. Because the Excise did not wish their Officers to become too friendly with the locals whom they taxed, a system of "removes" forced Excise Officers to change locations every few years until the 1870s. Due to these rotations, I had lost track of my 3rd great grandfather's sons as they taxed their way across the United Kingdom.

The 1881 British Census on CD-ROM offered an ideal opportunity to locate the whereabouts of these Inland Revenue Officers. Could I but search on the surname "ARIS" PLUS any mention of the word "Inland" in the Occupation field, my rascally gaugers should practically leap out of the discs.

The problem was that the Occupation field was not searchable using the search window provided with the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM. The data was there, it just wasn't searchable in the way I wished to use it. I could, of course, do a surname search on all ARIS surnames using the search window provide with the 1881 British Census. However, I would then have to sort through all the returned results manually inspecting the Occupation field to locate Inland Revenue Officers. This seemed unnecessarily tedious. Surely the personal computer might be made to do this chore for me?

Unlocking The Data Using An Alternate Key

I had the chance to ask the LDS Family History Department programmers and project managers about my desire to search their 1881 British Census product in ways they had not provided for. They quickly suggested that I could use an alternate search product to search by any keyword appearing on the 1881 discs.

The Family History Department told me that they used the Folio suite of products from NextPage to provide the data format and the search capabilities on their CD-ROM products. Folio provides various database development & search tools while licensing their products to database developers such as the Family History Department for re-sale to consumers. In the case of the Family History Department, their Family History Resource File Viewer used to view their CD-ROMs (not only the 1881 British Census) is a licensed end-user version of Folio's complete search tool called Folio Views 4.2. Folio Views 4.2 retails for US$149.00 and is available from NextPage partner retailers in North America, Europe, and beyond. (Note that the product is also available in the United Kingdom from TWR Computing, S&N Genealogy Supplies, or Catalyst Electronic Publishing for approximately 109.) The Family History Department recommended that this full-featured search tool would allow me to search the 1881 British Census on any data field or combinations of data fields I wished including the Occupation field.

I ordered this rather expensive software product and once it arrived, I installed the product with ease in under 5 minutes. The interface was intuitive to any Windows user and in another 15 minutes, I was merrily searching for Inland Revenue Officers who also had the surname ARIS on each individual disc in the CD-ROM set. I should have known that since the Family History Department developed their products using Folio's tools, Folio Views would be easily adapted to viewing the data on the Census discs. Still I was surprised at how effortless the entire process was.

After selecting the correct file, Folio views displays the data on the disc very much like the Family History Resource Viewer provided with the 1881 Census does see Figure 2.

Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census  Midlands West counties disc) Initial Display Window of 1881 Census detail.

Figure 2: Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census Midlands West counties disc) Initial Display Window of 1881 Census detail.

The detailed census data is shown "as enumerated" and shows a total of 521,159 records on this single disc (the Midlands West counties). Each record represents an enumerated household.

After a first look at the data using Folio Views, I was ready to begin searching for my ARIS Inland Revenue Officers. The Search, Advanced Query is quickly locatable from the Folio Views menu bar. Comparison of the 1851 CD-ROM's Search, Query and the Folio Views' Search, Advanced Query shows that they are nearly identical. It is, in fact, the same software. The Advanced Query works with simple boolean commands just as the 1851 Query function does. Now I wanted to keep my search simple. I merely wanted the search results to return every household where "ARIS" and "Inland" occur together.

Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census  Midlands West counties disc) Advanced Query Window showing potential results for

Figure 3: Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census Midlands West counties disc) Advanced Query Window showing potential results for "inland and aris".

"My" Inland Revenue Officers quickly came forward as I used this procedure on each of the data discs in the 1881 census. From the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM Midlands West counties disc, I found that there were a total of 425 mentions of the word "inland" while there were only four occurrences of the word "aris". With a combined search for both words, I quickly found one of my taxmen in Kings Norton. Folio Views had done all of the searching for me. I didn't even have to view the three other ARIS entries to determine what their occupations were.

Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census  Midlands West counties disc) Household record for one of the author's Inland Revenue Officers.

Figure 4: Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census Midlands West counties disc) Household record for one of the author's Inland Revenue Officers.

Else Can Be Searched For?

I mentioned that I was messing about with this alternative search procedure on the Norfolk genealogy mailing list and a New Zealander on the mailing list sent my a query. He had been looking for his ancestor, one John Joseph AIMES, who was a printer's compositor by trade. Family lore put him in London at the time of the 1881 census but the New Zealander had not been able to locate him on any of the several discs for the greater London region.

I took up the challenge and formatted an Advanced Query looking for any combination of "AIMES" and "compositor". I quickly found the wayward ancestor. He was a visitor in a PLUMB household on census night and been incorrectly entered into the database as John Joseph Aimes PLUMB! Now be aware that using the native search feature in the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM, the New Zealander could have search for AIMES in the Given Name(s) field (rather than the Last Name field) and he would have found his compositor eventually. A reminder to us all not to be too set in our thinking about how our ancestors' surnames were recorded. However, Folio Views found the combination of AIMES and compositor immediately.

One of the excellent advantages of Folio Views' ability to do keyword searches is that the researcher can view all the instances of surname variants included on the CD-ROM discs. All of the mis-hearings, mis-spellings, mis-copyings, and mis-keyings are available for the genealogists' inspection when an ancestor has apparently gone missing. This certainly helps us outwit the common problem of surname variants.

Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census  East Anglia disc) Advanced Query Window showing alphabetical listing of all keywords including variant surname spellings.

Figure 5: Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census East Anglia disc) Advanced Query Window showing alphabetical listing of all keywords including variant surname spellings.

A particular help is Folio Views ability to search by street names, addresses, and public house names, just to mention a few pieces of location information which are not searchable using the native search capability provided with the 1881 census discs. A researcher who knows the address of a family of ancestors from a previous census can search on by that same address to determine who lives there in 1881. In my own research, I was unable to find my 2nd great grandfather's family whom I knew to be living in Norwich at the time of the 1881 census. I had searched by surname and given name on the East Anglia disc of the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM to no avail. From another source, I was fortunate to have the family's address at the time so a search on "3 Lakenham Terrace" using Folio Views quickly returned the household address. Viewing the data, it was obvious why I had not found them originally. A variant surname spelling of AYRIS had replaced ARIS. I hadn't thought to check that variant spelling but with Folio Views, I was able to locate the family based on their location.

Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census  East Anglia disc) Household record for the author's 2nd great grandfather showing a variant surname spelling.

Figure 6: Folio Views 4.2 (1881 Census East Anglia disc) Household record for the author's 2nd great grandfather showing a variant surname spelling.

Not Only For Genealogists

Additional information which can not be searched using the native search facility of the 1881 Census CD-ROM set but can be searched using Folio Views 4.2 includes the following. Much of it will be of interest primarily to social historians but genealogists may find these Folio Views searches beyond given name, last name, birth year, birthplace, and census place of value as well:

The 1881 Census CD-ROM set was created by the LDS Family History Department with genealogists in mind. Its value to local historians and other social scientists with an eye on the past was necessarily limited by the native search capabilities included in the product. With Folio Views, not only can these specialists obtain valuable research results from the 1881 Census, but family historians can also extend their reach into the data.

Folio Views 4.2 can be used to easily extract data from other Family History Department products such as the British Isles Vital Records Index, among others. Irregardless of what search capabilities are provided with these products, Folio Views will allow for additional and more complex query results. No longer limited by the search tool which comes with the data, users of Folio Views will be able to search for any combination of data elements they choose.

Additional information on Folio Views products, including access to a newsgroup specifically for users of Folio Views, may be found at NFOWEB Folio Support.

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Getting More From the 1881 British Census on CD-ROM

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Updated March 24, 2001

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