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Devon in the 1881 Census

Search for your ancestors in Devon in the 1881 Census and discover a detailed snapshot of their life at the time.

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Devon in 1881

Taken on 3rd April 1881, the census collected the following information from Devon: full name, exact age, relationship to head of household, gender, occupation, parish and county of birth, medical disabilities.

There were 611,033 residents living in Devon on the day of the census; with nearly 30 million living in the UK. Queen Victoria was the reigning monarch, while William Gladstone was the Prime Minister.

Devon was still a largely rural county, with thousands still employed in agriculture. Cities like Plymouth and Exeter were further away from key resources such as coal and iron, so developed modern industry less quickly than those in northern counties.

Nevertheless, railway links, including that of the bridge Isambard Kingdom Brunel built in Plymouth in 1859 did much to connect them to the rest of the country.

As a result, tourism was a growing industry in Devon. The Torbay area was known as the ‘English Riviera’ and attracted visitors for its bracing sea air, which was believed to have a rejuvenating effect on those with respiratory diseases.

Towns such as Ilfracombe in North Devon, with its tunnels to access the beach by horse-drawn carriage, also thrived from tourism as people from the cities flocked to Devon for recreational and health purposes.

Find Your Devon Past

Findmypast has extensive records from Devon in 1881 so you can explore your family history with ease.

To search the census returns, just input the information you have about your relatives into our search form and hit search.

With options to search by name, location, birth place, birth year, location and more, filtering out the thousands of residents of Devon is simple.

For example, if you have a long-lost family member with the surname Williams who you know lived in the county, just enter Williams in the “Last name” field and Devon in the “County” field and you’ll get these search results.

Using the transcripts of the census provided, members can then inspect the original images of the census enumeration books, which will help validate findings and expand family trees.

Famous Names From Devon

In amongst your relations, you might just find some notorious colourful local characters. from the county.

If you can find Rudyard Kipling , writer of The Jungle Book and other famous stories and poetry, as a young boarder at Kingsley College Priory in Bideford, then yours is the earth and everything that’s in it!

John “Jack” Russell who first bred the Jack Russell Terrier, can be found at the ripe old age of 85 in the 1881 census. Known as "The Sporting Parson", the vicar of Swimbridge and rector of Black Torrington in North Devon, was an enthusiastic fox-hunter and local character.

Plymothian Robert F Scott , better known as Captain Scott who died on his trip to the South Pole in 1912, can be found at Stubbington House Boarding School in Hampshire, where he was cramming for his entrance examinations to the naval training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth.

Search Tips

The original documents will have been given to your ancestors some time in advance before collection on April 3rd.

As illiteracy was still common, third party “enumerators” will have written on many people’s behalf, which could lead to some errors in the transcripts. This makes it of vital importance to check the original images.

Beware other inaccuracies such as wrong birth dates. Our search function allows a margin of error of two years, you can adjust this further if you wish.

There are more than 600,000 Devon residents in the 1881 Census and we wish you luck in hunting down the family members who made a lasting impact in this incredible time for Devon!

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