This was written in the early days of this web site, shortly after the 1881 census had become available on CD - and before any county-wide census was available online. It has been retained to demonstrate what things were like only a few years ago.
The census enumerators books are not indexed by names but various indexes have been constructed. The most important of these is the 1881 census which is available on CD, and which can be searched by name and census place or birthplace. In some cases every census for a village has been indexed by a local historian - for instance Reg Auckland has indexed the village of Sandridge. In other cases a local history or family history society may have indexed a census for the area they are interested in.. A project called the Hertfordshire Historical Resources Project was launched in 1989, and most if not all the 1851 census has been transcribed and simple name indexes by location are available at HALS, in Hertford. Transcripts have been published for the Berkhamsted and St Albans areas There are also some special indexes. For instance I have a copy of an index of people from Hertfordshire recorded in the 1891 census for the East End of London.
When a suitable indexed transcript exists it may be possible for people to answer questions from their own home in minutes. Where there are no indexes a search may involve hours searching through a microfilm at a nearby library or records office.
It may help people who work over the Internet if I compare the times it takes me to look something up in various censuses. I have the 1881 census CD-ROMs and the Hertfordshire CD is normally left on my CD drive. If there are no problems I can find a single person anywhere in Hertfordshire with a unique name/date and paste household details to a reply within a couple of minutes. I can check anywhere in the UK within 5 minutes. A request for Tring in 1851 with several possibilities may take 5 minutes to look up in the printed index - plus the time to copy-type the relevant household data. A request for a person living in Tring in 1861 means a trip (26 miles there and back) to the local studies library at Hemel Hempstead and possibly an hour or more working on a microfilm reader if no road address is supplied. To search all the 1861 microfilms for the North West of Hertfordshire might take a week. For microfilms of the rest of Hertfordshire I either have to go to HALS at Hertford (effectively 1 hour's drive from door to door) or the Family Resource Centre in London (cheaper if I travel by train on a senior citizen's off-peak concession). Needless to say it is not practical for me to provide free look-ups from microfilms.
Page updated September 2007