Selected Subjects: Birthplace and Nationality

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4.4 Birthplace and Nationality

4.4.1 1841 - 1931

A question on birthplace was first introduced with the householder's schedule in 1841 when it was required to be stated whether each person was born

a. in the county of enumeration or, if elsewhere, whether

b. in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, British Colonies or foreign parts.

At the census of 1851 householders were asked to state the county and town or parish against the names of those born in the county of enumeration; while a statement of country of birth was asked in respect of those born in another part of Great Britain, in Ireland, the British Colonies, the East Indies or in foreign parts, and British subjects born in foreign parts had to be specified as such. From 1861 British subjects by birth born in foreign parts had to be distinguished from those who were naturalised and from 1901 country of nationality, as distinct from birth, had to be given. The schedules used from 1911 to 1931 provided separate columns for birthplace and nationality; in addition, the particulars obtained enabled foreign residents to be distinguished from visitors.

The subject of birthplace and the study of migration movements was given extensive treatment in the census reports, especially in those published on the censuses of Scotland. Details of the analyses published in census tables are given below.

4.4.2 1951 - 66


The census schedule for 1951 (England and Wales) contained the following instructions under the heading of Birthplace:

  1. If born in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, write the name of the County and of the Town or Parish.
  2. If born elsewhere, write the name of the Country and of the State, Province or District, or, if born at sea, write 'At Sea'.

Under the heading Nationality, the following instruction appeared:

For all persons not born in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, state present Nationality, eg French, German, Polish, etc or if British whether British by Birth or Descent, British by Naturalisation, British through Marriage, British by Registration, etc.

This corresponded, in intent, to what appeared in 1931.

Although information on country of nationality as distinct from country of birth has been obtained as far back as 1901, and two columns on the census schedule have been devoted to this subject since 1911, full use of the available information has not always been made. At the 1921 Census after the first world war when attention was focussed on aliens, a dual classification of aliens by birthplace and nationality was undertaken. In 1931 there was no classification of aliens by nationality but only of the number of aliens whose nationality differed from their country of birth. In 1951 however, full advantage was taken to use the available data.

Publications - England and Wales

Tables relating to birthplace and nationality appear in the General Tables , the County Report series, the Occupation Tables , the Report on Greater London and Five other Conurbations , and in the One Per Cent Sample (Great Britain) Tables . In addition, the General Report (Chapter V) gives a full commentary, illustrated by text tables, on the 1951 information.


The questions on birthplace and nationality asked for Scotland in 1951 were identical with their counterparts in England and Wales. Most of the tables on birthplace and nationality are to be found in the General Volume (Vol.III) and detailed comment on the data is at pages xliii to xlvii. The only other Scottish references are one table in the Occupation and Industry Tables (Vol.IV) and one table in the County Report series (Vol.1).


In the census of 1961, the questions on birthplace and nationality, which date back to 1841, were again included.

Changes in questions

For England and Wales the former question was limited to Country of birth as the 1951 Census had provided extensive tabulations by county of birth and it was considered unnecessary to obtain the same detail on this occasion. In Scotland, however, the more detailed question was retained. Though no guidance was given on the points to householders and others responsible for the completion of schedules, it may be of use if the general rule at the Census Office for the coding of birthplace is stated at this point. This was simple enough; to code to countries and frontiers existing at census date. Thus, persons returning 'Lithuania', 'Latvia' or 'Estonia' were coded to 'U.S.S.R.'.

The nationality question, limited to those born outside the United Kingdom, was unchanged as regards foreign nationalities, but the question now provided for specific mention of various commonwealth countries. Mode of acquisition of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, ie whether by birth or descent, naturalisation, registration or marriage, was obtained as it had been for all those who stated British nationality in 1951, but there was an additional question asking those persons who were citizens of the Commonwealth to state citizenships eg United Kingdom and Colonies, Indian, Canadian.

Sampling and bias

In the course of processing the 1961 data a comparison was made of the foreign born population enumerated in the full count and the ten per cent sample according to their country of birth or country of nationality. A brief account of this exercise appears in page 93 of the General report together with Table 12 which gives the percentage excess or deficiency of the sample for various countries or groups of countries as well as the actual figures from the two sources.

Post-enumeration survey

From the results of the post-enumeration survey two points emerge:

  1. Birthplace - 'Ireland (part not stated)'.

    A number of persons gave the reply 'Ireland' or 'Eire' with no indication whether this referred to Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic. These people appear in certain tables in the group 'Ireland (part not stated)'. The post-enumeration survey indicates that practically all these persons were actually born in the Irish Republic.
  2. Not stated nationality or citizenship.

    Of the 1,419,526 residents of England and Wales who were born outside the British Isles, 108,854 failed to state their nationality or citizenship. The numbers in the post-enumeration survey are not large enough to indicate that the distribution of this group by nationality or citizenship is significantly different from that of the persons who stated their nationality or citizenship.


The one major difference between the information collected for England and Wales and for Scotland in 1961 has already been noted; whereas it was deemed adequate if birthplace by country was obtained in England and Wales, particulars of birthplace by county continued to be collected in Scotland, and naturally greater detail on this subject is to be found in Scottish volumes of county reports and of birthplace and nationality data.

In addition, a check on errors in statements of city or county of birth was made. This was a by-product of a further check which was in connection with the accuracy of the stated ages of 3,585 persons of Scottish birth enumerated in the County of Roxburgh it can be seen that these two processes were easily combined in linking the census data with the relevant birth entries. As a point of interest, only 34 errors in the statements of birthplace were found.


The main tabulations appear in the respective Birthplace and Nationality Tables and the County Report series for England and Wales and for Scotland but birthplace in particular is used as an axis in many other subject volumes.


In the sample census of 1966 some important changes were made. The question on nationality was dropped and the question on birthplace reverted to the 1951 format of asking for the County of birth and asked for Town or Village rather than Town or Parish. Also it extended the home born to include all of Ireland, and those born in Northern Ireland were separately identified at the coding stage. The other change was that the whole of the birthplace question was anchored to 'the mother's usual address at the time of the person's birth' and not the actual place of birth which might have been a hospital or relative's house.


The question on birthplace as used in Scotland for 1966 was almost identical with its counterpart for England and Wales. The one and only divergence is that the term 'Parish' was retained so that what was required to be entered on the schedule was 'the name of the town, village or parish and county of the mother's usual address at the time of the person's birth'.

Publications - England and Wales

There was no actual report dealing solely with this subject but tables were included in the Great Britain Summary Tables, the County Report series and birthplace formed an axis in tables in most other subject volumes at either this level or for Great Britain or the United Kingdom as a whole.

Publications - Scotland

In Scotland three brief tables on birthplace were coupled with those on usual residence and appeared as a combined volume Usual Residence and Birthplace Tables . Otherwise the County Report series were the main avenue for publication on birthplace.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys/General Register Office, Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966 (London: HMSO, 1977) Crown Copyright. The Office of National Statistics has granted the Great Britain Historical GIS Project permission to computerise this publication and include it in this web site. All other rights reserved.

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