A census has been taken in England and Wales every ten years since 1801 with the exception of 1941. However, no personal details were collected for the early returns only statistical information. 1841 was the first census that contained any information that is of use to the family historian, including name, age, address, occupation and in later returns details of place of birth, infirmity and from 1891 - language spoken - English, Welsh or both.
The original household schedules from 1841 to 1901 were copied by the enumerator into enumerator's books, these are the records that are available to view today, the original household schedules were subsequently destroyed. However, the 1911 census is different, this was the first census for which the original schedules were preserved and made available.
Transcripts and indexes of numerous census returns have been created by county family history societies, check the Catalogue