FreeCEN Database Search Hints

Scotland has many unique quirks in the census that may make it hard to find your ancestor. Within this page are sites and hints to help you search the FreeCEN database, specifically Aberdeenshire, Nairnshire and the Merchant & Royal Navy. As further census years go online more hints will be added.

Last updated: review pending


  1. Database Accuracy
  2. General Notes
  3. 1841 Scotland Census
  1. 1851 Scotland Census
  2. 1851 Enumerator Instructions
  3. Scotland Merchant and Royal Navy
  4. 1861 Scotland Census

Database Accuracy

If you find an error in the census, or if you know your ancestor should be in a certain place and you can’t find them, please contact the county coordinator for that area with specific information (Surname, Forename, Parish, County and all family members that should be in the household at the time). All the Scottish Coordinators can be reached through email found at the Scotland Home Page.

If it is a transcription error, and not an enumeration error we can correct it. All entries are transcribed “as is”, to the best of our ability, to maintain the integrity of the original census. There are many spots with bad handwriting or clarity problems and the only way to make sure these entries are correct is to have someone with personal knowledge contact us.

Do not enter your information in the search box at the top of the FreeCEN census page. This is an advertisement for and is not the FreeCEN search engine. Scroll below the line and you will see the options for FreeCEN.

General Notes

Chapman codes

United Kingdom counties have unique letter codes assigned to them. Chapman codes can be found at

Parish search

Parishes within the counties have unique number codes assigned to them. Most county pages on the Genuki site list these numbers. If a parish was later split and given an a/b designation the FreeCEN database will only list the first. For instance, Aberdeen City (St Nicholas) was split into two main parts, Aberdeen and Old Machar, and given the designation of 168a and 168b respectively. The search engine will only list Aberdeen but all Old Machar entries will be found in this category.

Surname and forename search

To get the best results from the search engines try putting in the least specific amount of information that will still get a result. The site is very busy and often overloaded, . Spellings vary with Enumerators so using soundex for the surname can work, but it is often quicker to put in separate queries based on known variations in spelling. You may also want to try entering the first few letters of the surname with a wildcard.

Also, as first name abbreviations can vary so much try putting the first 1-2 letters of the name followed by an *. So eg. W* will definitely pick up all variations of William, Jo* will get all Johns and Ja* will get James, Jane, Janet, Al* will get all Alexanders etc.

If you use wildcards in both the surname and forename, narrow the search by using the other options such as Census County, Sex, Age, etc.

It's possible that the surname was unreadable. If you do not have any success finding your ancestor, try a search with UNKNOWN, (UNKNOWN), - , or (-) in the surname. In this case, try to fill out as much of the other information as possible to narrow the results down.

Birth county search

Due to reorganization of the counties, parishes that cross county borders, and organization of the census information by the GROS, you may not find your ancestor in the county you expect to. For instance, your ancestor may have been born in the parish of Fetterangus, Banffshire. Fetterangus is geographically located in the parish of Old Deer in the middle of Aberdeenshire. The census records are located with the Aberdeenshire returns. If you are unsure as to what county your ancestor may be listed under then leave that option as “All”.

Viewing original images

It is always a good idea to view the original census images. There is a description of the area for which the Enumerator was responsible at the start of each Enumeration District. This may give further clues as to where your ancestor lived. To view the original images, you must first know the film number. These can be found at by following the steps below:

  1. First know the parish number. These can be found at
  2. Go to
  3. Click on the Library Tab
  4. Choose the Family History Library Catalog.
  5. Choose to do a Title Search with the following information: (Census Year) Scotland Census. Ex: 1851 Scotland Census.
  6. Scroll through the results until you find "Census Returns for Scotland (Year)".
  7. You will want to view the film notes. The county and the parish numbers that the film contains will be listed on the right.

There are several places to view the image. If you know of a place, please let me know so it can be added to the list:

1841 Scotland Census

The first step in searching a census is to read the Enumerator Instructions to understand what the enumerators were doing. This will give you clues as to what occupation your ancestor may have been in and who may have been living in the house with them. 1841 instructions can be found at the Scotland Home Page, under the Census notes link. As with anything that is transcribed, you should always view the original documents.


Abbreviations are very dominant throughout the 1841 census. If your ancestor’s occupation is not one of the official abbreviations in the Enumerator Instructions (see above) you may find it spelled out for a different entry.


First try the correct spelling of your ancestor’s name. If you can’t find them then try a phonetic search. Remember that most people were not educated, leaving the Enumerator to spell their name. You may also want to try variations of the surname while doing phonetic searches to give you more options.


As with occupations, abbreviations and pet-names are frequently used throughout the census. Unfortunately, the database does not search for variations of forenames. Ray Hennessy has an excellent site to find abbreviations, pet names, etc. that is very valuable in searching for your ancestors:


In small, rural parishes the Enumerator Instructions for households is accurate. However, if you are searching for your ancestor in a city (Aberdeen, Old Machar, Peterhead, etc.) the “rules” are slightly different from the Enumerator Instructions. When viewing the original census the divisions between households is very confusing. We have done our best to determine family divisions.

When searching the database always view the previous and next households. Separate families living in the same house or apartment, separated by a single slash on the Census, will appear as another household and can be found in this way. It may be very useful to know who was living close to, or with, your ancestor.

Please see the 1841 Enumerator Instruction at The Scotland Home Page, on the Census notes tab, for further information on how the households were divided.

Birth place

The 1841 census only allowed for Born In County, Born Out of County (i.e. elsewhere in Scotland), England, Ireland and Foreign. Where parishes overlapped County boundaries, or were transferred between Counties, the Enumerator did not record a relevant Born In County. In these instances, you will find two counties listed as a place of birth with one recorded as the original. For instance, the entry could read "Banffshire, Originally Aberdeenshire".

Folio numbers

Scotland did not use folio numbers. In 1841, it was determined that 'Book Numbers' were added later as an organizational method. When viewing the original census these numbers are found at the bottom of the GROS logo page in a circle. They may also be found on the index card above, or prior, to this page on the top line to the far right.


If a person was living in the Outhouse, Barn, etc., there will be a note. For instance, John Munro is working on a farm as an Agricultural Labourer. The census listed him as being unrelated to the family but still living with them. In the address column, or sometimes in the occupation column, the enumerator wrote Outhouse meaning that John Munro was working for the family but was living in an out building on the property.

1851 Scotland Census

Most problems within the 1841 census were solved in 1851. As parishes are completed and the inconsistencies are found, more specific hints will be added. As with the 1841 census, it is helpful to read the Enumerator Instructions before searching. These instructions can be found below.

Folio numbers

As in 1841, there are no folio numbers. We are using the number on the index card prior to the start of the parish. On these cards will be a number and a list of parishes that the number pertains to.


The households now have schedule numbers which makes it easy to determine the beginning and end of each individual household.


There may still be abbreviated forenames, though not to the extent of 1841. will help you find an alternative forename.


Many times the occupation enumerated will not fit in the space allowed by the software. The occupations have either been abbreviated in the occupation space or spelled out in the notes.

Parts of the occupation moved to the notes column include such things as the number of people employed, acreage farmed or owned, skill level (Apprentice, Journeyman or Master), and additional occupations. The note may read "Occ: Also..." or just simply "Also..."

If the occupation has been abbreviated, vowels are most often taken out so the word can still be understood. Enumerators used abbreviations as well.

Birth places

Starting in 1851, the census included detailed places of birth. These places are usually parishes and counties but can be farms or villages within a parish. If the place listed as your ancestors place of birth is not found in the Genuki lists, please do a web search or use the Genuki Gazetteer.

Often the enumerator listed the wrong county or a phonic spelling that would be unrecognizable to a researcher. In both cases, an alternative birth place will be listed. For instance, the entry could read "Banffshire St. Fergus, Originally Aberdeenshire St. Fergus".

The enumerators also used ancient county names. These have been changed to the modern names in the database:

Ancient County Name Modern County Name
Mearns Kincardineshire
Edinburghshire Midlothian
Haddingtonshire East Lothian
Linlithgowshire West Lothian
Forfarshire Angus
Elginshire Morayshire
Tweeddale Peebles-shire
Teviotdale Roxburghshire
Liddisdale Roxburghshire

Enumerator Instructions for the 1851 Census

Respecting the manner in which
Entries should be made in this Book

The process of entering the Householder’s Schedules, in this Book, should be as follows:-

The Enumerator should first insert, in the spaces at the top of the page, the name of the Parish, Quoad Sacra Parish, City or Burgh, Town or Village, to which the contents of that page will apply, drawing his pen through all the headings which are inappropriate.

He should then, in the first column write the No. of the Schedule he is about to copy, and in the second column the name of the Street, Square, &c. where the house is situate, and the No. of the house, if it has a No., or, if the house be situate in the country, any distinctive Name by which it may be known.

He should then copy from the Schedule into the other columns, all the other particulars concerning the members of the family (making use if he please of any of the contractions authorized by his Instructions;) and proceed to deal in the same manner with the next Schedule.

Under the last name in any house he should draw a line across the page as far as the fifth column. Where there is more than on Occupier in the same house, he should draw a similar line under the last name of the family of each Occupier; making the line, however, in this case, commence a little on the left hand side of the third column, as in the example on page vi. By the term “House,” must be understood “a distinct building separated from other buildings by party-walls.” Flats, therefore, must not be entered as houses.

Where he has to insert an uninhabited house, or a house building, this may be done, as in the example, by writing in the second column on the line under the last name of the last house inserted, “One house uninhabited,” “Three houses building,” as the case may be; drawing a line underneath, as in the example.

At the bottom of each page, on the line for that purpose, he must enter the total number of HOUSES in that page, separating those inhabited from those uninhabited or building. If the statement regarding any inhabited house is continued from one page to another, that house must be reckoned in the total of the page on which the first name is entered. He must also enter on the same line the total number of males and of females included in that page.

When he has completely entered all the Schedules belonging to any one Parish or Quoad Sacra Parish, he should make no more entries on the LEAF on which the last name is written, but should write across the page, “End of the Parish [or Quoad Sacra Parish] of ------;” beginning the entry of the next Schedule on the next subsequent LEAF of his book. The same course must be adopted with respect to any isolated or detached portion of a distant Parish; which portion, for the sake of convenience, may have been included in his district. When he has entered all the Schedules belonging to any Burgh, Village, &c., he should make no more entries on that PAGE, but write underneath the line after the last name, “End of the Burgh, [or Village, &c.] of -----;” making his next entry on the first line of the following PAGE.

In this way he will proceed until all his Householders’ Schedules are correctly copied into his Book; and he must then make up the statement of totals, at page ii of this Book, in the Form there specified. He must also, on page iii, make up the summaries there mentioned, in the form and according to the instructions there given.

1861 Scotland Census

Additional census information

The FreeCEN format does not allow for the Number of Rooms With Windows or Number of Children Attending School information on the 1861 and 1871 census. The policy we have used is to record the number of rooms with windows above 5 and to record the number of children attending school if the number enumerated does not match the number of children listed in the house as scholars or students. This information will be listed under “Notes”.

© Michelle Jeffery, 2005–2014