Locating Census Addresses on Maps

How To



It is important to realise that the order of the households listed in a census return is not random - but represents the route that the census enumerator took when calling at the houses. In addition, at the start of each census return book there is a verbal description of the route. By noting where a household appears in a book it is possible to determine where on the route it occurred on - and by relating it to its near neighbours it is sometimes possible to identify the actual house if you visit the area or have access to a good map.

Unfortunately the verbal descriptions are not included on the 1881 census CD and are omitted in some other indexes and transcripts. However, because the 1881 census is available to many, and because contemporary large scale (6 inch to the mile) maps are available online , I will work through a number of 1881 census examples relating to families mentioned on the old forum. I also use a modern Hertfordshire street atlas - but you could use modern online maps.


Since this page was first written Google Maps has introduced satellite views and more recently street views. The satellite views can be very useful for examining the surviving buildings and boundaries in rural areas, which have changed relatively little, while the street views may even include a relatively high resolution picture of your ancestor's home if it is still standing.


Peter POULTER is listed in the 1881 census as living on the Common, Redbourn. By selecting Neigbours and going back to "page 1" you can trace out the route the enumerator took:

Census address

Map information

Redbourn High Street

Probably the West side to the South of Fish Street

Fish Street

Probably South side only

Common - School House

School (Boys) on South of road

Common - Dairy Farm

Unidentified buildings on South of road

Common - Silk Mill

Silk Factory

Common - The Cricketers

Cricketers P.H.

Common [a lot of unidentified houses]

Presumably the long row of ?cottages? which has the Cricketers at the North end.. Peter POULTER was the 16th household.


Note the pond and sluice. (a suitable place for frogs)

Church Gate

? Opposite Church End ?

Gate Keepers House


Flowers Farm

Flowers Farm - in the countryside to the South

Wood End

Wood End (on different sheet to South West)

Cherry Trees (etc)

Cherry Tree Farm

From the above it is possible to reconstruct the enumerators route which started at the South West end of the High Street and along the South side of the road to Hemel Hempstead and back through the countryside picking up farms within the parish. A further search of the census returns shows that Church End, Redbourn, and other places to the north of the road to Hemel Hempstead are on a different route in a different census book.


In the case of Martha GEARD of Hitchin, a check of the census suggests that you left the Market Square and entered Sun Street and almost immediately come to the Sun Hotel, next door to which is Martha's school. A school is marked in a possible location - although the old OS maps are not so good in crowded town centres.


In attempting to locate Thomas SLOW's Hill End Farm, Hemel Hempstead, I worked with a text copy of the 1881 Hemel Hempstead census  A text search for "Hill End" located a reference to a pair of unoccupied cottages. As the neighbours were Chaulden Lane, Winkwell and Pouchen End on one side and Fields End, Boxted and Warners End Farm on the other there was no great difficulty in finding it on the old OS map.


One major problem is that of the yards off the older town centre roads. Many hundreds of years ago houses were built facing the road, with access to the rear. As the town grew the back of the property developed - with stables, workshops and cottages often entered through an archway. These rear developments could become very complex, and often one would find the worst slums in such situations. If the yard was behind a posting inn there might be very extensive stables and even a smithy - and the yard would normally be named after the inn. In other cases the yard may simply be named after the shopkeeper in the house by the archway at the time, who probably owned the yard.

Ideally the census enumerator would work his way along one side of the street or market place, looking in the yards as he passed by, and giving them a name by which it could easily be identified. Unfortunately, in some towns some enumerators simply labelled all the properties facing the High Street, and all the yards, with the simple words "High Street" and it is then very difficult to identify who was living on the High Street, and who was in the yard behind.

Fortunately the enumerator who did the Hemel Hempstead High Street in 1881 carefully identified the yards. The one who did the West side started at the North End, with the house of George REYNOLDS, a corn merchant. He then turned into "Lawrence's Yard" (where the car park entrance now is), where Shadrack SPURR was living, presumably behind the house of James LAWRENCE, a master tailor. There was then a block of houses facing the High Street with no rear access (as can still be seen to this day). There is then Jeffery's Yard, where William SPURR lived, the house at the entrance to the yard being occupied by Thomas JEFFERY. (The gap between the houses still exists). Further along the street were the Coach and Horse and the Brewers Arms (both of which are listed as two households - one probably being round the back.) There is then another entrance to Keen's Yard, entered alongside the shop of Daniel KEEN, a master butcher (now selling dolls houses!).

A visit to the High Street today shows an almost identical frontage - so there is little difficulty in identifying the properties. However an ordinary street map does not show the former yards - which in many cases were merely entrances onto private property, and the old 6 inch to the mile OS Map only allows you to identify the entrances to what the enumerator called Lawrence's yard and Keen's Yard - and then only if you know what you are looking for. (The larger scale 1:2500 map is far clearer - but is not available online - although it is available as a reduced scale facsimile.)


For another example of the approach see WELLING, Potten End, circa 1900

For a different example, identifying a new build area which changed it name, see Pound Field, St Michaels, St Albans, 19th Century. This makes use of the descriptions of the enumeration districts in 1851, 1861 and 1871.

Dimsdale Building, St Andrews, Hertford, 1841 uses a 1830 town map as a guide.


Since this page was first constructed there has been a considerable increase in the number and presentation of map on this web site.  The following is an example of a large scale nap from 1898 from CAMP, Waterfield House, Herongate, circa 1900

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

September 2007   Page updated
June 2010   Box on Google Maps
October 2010   Dimsdale link