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Census, Parish and Other Records - File Formats


These notes are intended for anyone considering submitting data for inclusion in the Census, Parish and Other Records section of this site.  These notes should only be considered as guidelines.  The most important thing is to transfer the data in a format I can read.  If all the following is gobbledygook, just email me and let me know how you store your data currently and we'll work out the easiest way to get the data to me.


The type of file you send depends on what program you have used to store your census data.  Most people will probably have stored their data in either a spreadsheet program or a word processor.

If you have used a spreadsheet, such as Excel, to store the data, then save the spreadsheet into a Tab Delimited file, usually by selecting File, Save As from the Menu Bar.  There should be a Save as Type option like the following:

Text (Tab Delimited) (*.txt)  

The resulting file will be much smaller than the spreadsheet file, cannot transmit viruses, which spreadsheet files can, and can be processed whether or not I have the same spreadsheet program.

Word Processors
If you use a word processor such as Word, then save the document into a Rich Text Format file by selecting File, Save As from the Menu Bar.  There should be a Save as Type option similar to the following:

Rich Text Format (*.rtf)  

Again, this is better than the native file format of your word processor, for reasons of portability, safety and economy of size.

Other Programs
If you are using other types of program, such as a record-management program, or genealogical software, then it is usually possible to export data into a an external file format such as a Tab Delimited file, a CSV file or another type of file that I can process.  If you have read through the information on this page and are still unsure, please email me at


It is a good idea to compress the file you plan to send.  Compression obviously makes the file much smaller which means it take less time to transfer the file by email.  Compression also ensures that the various email programs which will process the file as it goes from you to me, will not mangle the formatted contents of the file containing your census data.  I can handle most types of compression formats - ZIP files from Windows, StuffIt Files from Apple Macs and tar and gzip files from Unix environments.

If you can compress your file before sending it then please do so.  If you can't, don't worry - send the file containing your census data uncompressed as an email attachment. (See below.)


The first thing to be said is the I don't really mind how the data are laid out in the file, providing the format is consistent, so that I can modify one of my existing formatting programs to process the data in my file.

There are several different ways the data can be laid out.  Any of these are acceptable.

Delimited Format
This is the general term for data saved from a spreadsheet in a Tab Delimited file.  The idea is that the length of each data item, or field value can be variable.  The start and end position of a particular data item are defined by a delimiter which does not appear in the data.  In a Tab Delimited file, the delimiter is the tab character, but any other character which does not appear in the data may be used, such as an asterisk (*), a tilde (~) or even a group of characters which does not appear in the text, such as @@@, or #$ or %@%@.

Here is an example of a tab-delimited format file, produced from a spreadsheet.

Great Creaton, Brixworth48 
Thomas WykesHeadM48ButcherGreat Creaton, Northants
Sophia Wykes (Ashby)WM32CharwomanGuilsborough, Northants
Jane E WykesDau12ScholarGreat Creaton, Northants
Isaac WykesSon10ScholarGreat Creaton, Northants
Lucy ADau8ScholarGreat Creaton, Northants
Alfred WykesSon2ScholarGreat Creaton, Northants
Great Creaton, Brixworth121
Henry WykesHeadM21BrickmakerCreaton, Northants
Josie ? WykesWM22Creaton, Northants
Sarah A WykesDau3Creaton, Northants
Leonard SSon11MCreaton, Northants

represents the TAB character.  If you view a text file, the tab characters are not displayed, but are translated to the number of spaces required to move to the next tab position.

Note that all lines contain five TAB characters, irrespective of the number of fields.  While this is not necessary, it is the usual way the files are saved.  The example shows two households.  The first household starts with the first row and the fields in the first row are the census place and the reference number of the dwelling.

The next six lines are the individuals living in the household.  Each row contains the fields:- Name, Relationship to the Head of the Family, Condition (Marital Status), Age, Occupation and Place of Birth.

There is a blank row between the first and the second households.  This blank line is not necessary, because the start of a new household can be inferred from the absence of data in the last four fields.

Here's a slightly different example.


This is a delimited file, but here the delimiter is the end-of-line.  The first record starts with the first line of the above example, which reads DYCHURCH LANE and ends with the sixth line, which contains a single Y. The first three fields, or lines in the above example, define the Location of the household and the next 2 fields the Name of the occupant. Next is Age, then Occupation and finally if they were born in the census county.

Note the last record for Thomas Wykes.  Because his occupation is not given there is a blank line.  If this line were omitted it would be difficult to decide where one record starts and another ends.

Fixed Format 
This format is used to describe file where the data items are of a fixed length, so that they appear to be in columns.  Each field has a predefined length. Name could be 30 characters, Age just 3.  Even when a name is less than 30 characters long, the 30 characters are still used, the training characters being filled with spaces.  Obviously, if a name is more than 30 characters, it will be truncated to 30 characters, so it is important to ensure that each field has been allocated sufficient width to handle the longest data value that the field contains.

School Lane  Spratton  1562/26/16  William WYKES    M28  MHead...
School Lane  Spratton  1562/26/16  Martha WYKES     M31  FWife...
School Lane  Spratton  1562/26/16  Rose E. WYKES     3   FDau...
School Lane  Spratton  1562/26/16  William A. WYKES  1   MSon...
School House Benefield 1586/57/1   Charles H. WYKES M33  MHead...
School House Benefield 1586/57/1   Mary WYKES       M31  FWife...
School House Benefield 1586/57/1   Arthur WYKES      10  MSon...

Note how each field occupies the same amount of space on each line, so that fields are arranged into columns.

Parameterised Format
This type of file usually contains one field per line, but the field is identified by a tag which precedes it.  Here's an example.

House:Chestnut St
Name:John B. WYKES
Age: 24
Sex: M
Rel: Head
Occ: Blacksmith
Name:Sarah O. WYKES
Age: 27
Sex: F
Rel: Wife
House:Anchor Inn
Name:Joseph Robinson WYKES
Age: 27
Sex: M 
Born:Aston Flamville
Rel: Head
Occ: Publican And Farm Bailiff

Here, the tags are separated from the data by a colon character (:).  Because each field is labeled by its tag, there is no need to include a record where the value is blank, but if blank fields are included, that's still OK.  


Once you have extracted your data and perhaps compressed the file you need to send it to me.  The best way to do this is as an email attachment, rather than pasting the file into an email.  Sending the file as an attachment will preserve any formatting which may be lost during a paste operation.

Please send the file to , together with the following information:-

  • Area Covered
  • Census Year
  • Name(s) for which details have been extracted
  • Coverage (Partial or Complete)
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