Details collected include: address, name, relationship to the head of the family, marital status, age at last birthday, gender, occupation, and place of birth. As with earlier censuses, the form asked whether any "lunatics", "imbeciles" or "idiots" lived in the household, causing the Registrar General to observe that: "It is against human nature to expect a mother to admit her young child to be an idiot, however much she may fear this to be true. To acknowledge the fact is to abandon all hope."
The 1881 census was the first UK census to be indexed in its entirety. In the 1980s, in a project that has been characterised as "the largest collection of historical source material to be made available in computerised form", and "the first major 'crowd-sourced' exercise in the world", the Genealogical Society of Utah began collaborating with the Federation of Family History Societies and the Scottish Association of Family History Societies to produce an index to the 1881 census for England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
In 1994 and 1995 the resulting index was published, county by county, on microfiche, and made available to institutions. In 1999 the index was published on a set of 24 CD-ROMs and made available to the general public.
In August 2001 the index for Scotland was made available online on Scots Origins, then the official data site of the General Register Office for Scotland, and is now available on its successor ScotlandsPeople. In February 2003, the remaining material was made available free of charge on the FamilySearch website. Free access to the online index is now available from several other sites, though the Scottish data remains exclusive to ScotlandsPeople.
- "Census records". The National Archives. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
- 1801-1901. Office for National Statistics. Archived by The National Archives 28 January 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
- "Pages from 1881 census go online". BBC News. 3 December 2004. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
- Woollard, M; Schurer, K (9 Nov 2000). "1881 Census for England and Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (Enhanced Version)". UK Data Service. doi:10.5255/UKDA-SN-4177-1. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
- "Federation Wiki". Federation of Family History Societies. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
- Young, Stephen; Lumas, Susan (1995). "History Of The British 1881 Census Project". The Federation of Family History Societies. Archived from the original on 2005-01-01. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
- "National index to 1881 British census". FamilySearch. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
- Christian, Peter; Annal, David (2014). Census. The Family Historian's Guide. London: Bloomsbury. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-4729-0293-1.