What can I learn from the 1851 census of Luxembourg?: Tuesday’s Tip



Why employ the census to research Luxembourger ancestors? Some of the commonly cited reasons might be the accessibility of the source, the variety of information contained within, and the ability to trace the family over time. Yet, there might also be concerns raised: can one guarantee that the ancestor was listed on the census, enumerated in the correct place and recorded with accurate information? Looking at the 1851 census enumerator’s instructions validates the choice of the census as a source and addresses some of the concerns.


The 1851 Luxembourg census lacks some of the accessibility of the U.S., Canadian and British Iles census documents. There is no index available. However, if you know the ancestor’s residence, their record should be easy to locate. Microfilm of the census has been digitized by FamilySearch and is available on their website as “Luxembourg, Census Records, 1843-1900.” The collection can be browsed by commune and year.


The enumeration itself offers information concerning a variety of genealogical questions.  An ancestor’s enumeration will be written in either French or German: the enumeration sheet was written in both languages, and the enumerator had a choice. An enumeration should contain first and last name; age; place of birth, including the country if not Luxembourg; sex; if they are married, widowed or single; profession; religion; how long they have lived in the commune; and any additional comments.


The wide variety of information contained on an enumeration can both serve as evidence and guide further research. Women are listed by their maiden name, which given the additional information of their commune of birth and age, can help guide a search for their civil birth registration. Knowing a man’s profession can deepen an understanding of his background. His trade may have determined where he remained in Luxembourg or moved abroad – and where he moved. Each piece of information can function as a useful guide.


As helpful as the enumeration is, a researcher reviewing only the document will miss information concerning the family’s structure. The U.S. census was recorded by listing who was present in the household on the night it was enumerated. A North American researcher would likely assume that the Luxembourg census was taken the same way. However, the enumerator’s instructions reveal a different process. Luxembourg’s census was recorded by family.[i] If someone was out of the area or lived elsewhere but had not set up their own household, he or she was to be recorded with their family and the reason for the absence listed.[ii] The census enumeration does not explicitly list family relationships. Yet, as the enumerator’s instructions reveal, the order in which the family was recorded implicitly states their relationships. The head of household was listed first, followed by: “his male children, his female children, in the order of their age, the other members of the family, the wards, the domestics of both sexes if they are of the age of majority, that is to say, if they have reached the age of 21.”[iii] Domestics younger than 21 would have been listed on the enumeration of their family.[iv]


The enumerator’s instructions confirm the value of using the census as a source, but do they address its accuracy?  In many countries, the census was taken by an enumerator going door to door. It was possible for someone to be missed by an enumerator or to be counted in a household in which they did not normally reside. Although Luxembourg used the same process, the government made every effort to prevent someone being missed or counted in the wrong household. Census enumerators were given strict instructions to question the head of a multiple family household to guarantee that everyone within the house was counted.[v] The enumerators were also to see that no family was missed: the day after the enumeration was taken, commune officials met to complete the information for any families who had not counted and to correct any inaccurate information.[vi] A second major concern is the accuracy of the information provided. Was information provided by someone likely to have experienced the event first-hand? Unfortunately, for Luxembourg, there is no way to tell. Enumerations were verified twice before being submitted to the General Administration of the Interior (the final governing body). Each of those verifications – and corrections – could have introduced errors into the census document.


The 1851 census of Luxembourg, seen alone, is a rich source of information on the residents of the Grand-Duchy. A glimpse at the enumerator’s instructions reveals the source’s true depth: it was designed to illuminate the structure of each household throughout the year, not just when the enumerator knocked on the door. While the enumeration process did not succeed in eliminating the issues seen from using the census as a source, the instructions further reveal a conscious effort made to eliminate those issues. Seeing the 1851 census through the light of the enumeration instructions gives the source new depth.


[i] Memorial Legislatif et Administratif du Grande-Duché de Luxembourg, Année 1851 no. 1-96

(Luxembourg City : J. Lamort, n.d.), 830-831; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 22 May 2015).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Memorial Legislatif et Administratif, 830.

[iv] Memorial Legislatif et Administratif, 830-831.

[v] Memorial Legislatif et Administratif, 831.

[vi] Memorial Legislatif et Administratif 832.


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