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Friday, 30 January 2009

1911 Census now online

The latest census available to the public is the eagerly awaited 1911 census for England and Wales. In recent years, census information has been closed, certainly for family history purposes, for 100 years. The National Archives were planning to make the 1911 census available in January 2012 but a ruling by the Information Commissioner in December 2006 meant that the National Archives was forced to make the information available now.

As from 13th January 2009, it is available from www.1911Census.co.uk on a dedicated website, with a phased release, county by county; this will include images and transcription data, initially on a pay-per-view basis only, however searches will be free.

Viewing the images of the household pages uses 30 credits, which costs from £2.50 to £3.48, depending on the package of credits that you buy.

The images have all been scanned in very high quality colour – all previous censuses have only been available in black and white – giving much clearer images and greater legibility than previous censuses.

For this price you will also be able to view all the associated images for the family: this includes both sides of the household form ( RG 14); the page from the enumerator’s book,which lists the head of household for all the neighbouring buildings; summary statistical pages for the registation district and details of the enumerator’s walk (RG 78). For most searches this means that you will get between two and seven images for your 30 credits.

Customers living outside the UK can purchase PayAsYouGo credits online using a credit or debit card. Payments can be made in your own currency by selecting the relevant option in the ’Choose currency‘ drop-down menu.

The Census: What is it?

The 1911 census was a household census taken on the night of Sunday 2nd April 1911. It holds information on every household, vessel, institution and overseas residencies that were part of England and Wales in 1911 (including some ships at sea, and some army units stationed overseas). A full entry would contain names of persons in each household, age, occupation, position in household (i.e. head, wife, son, grandfather etc), whether they had any illnesses and the full address of the property where they were residing that night.

The 1911 census is the first census where the householder's schedule has remained the master entry, rather than the enumerator's notes, so you will be able in most cases to view your ancestors' handwriting when looking at 1911 census entries.


The Householder and Institutional Schedules (National Archives document reference RG 14) contains 35,000 volumes detailing information relating to 35 million people in England and Wales. There are (approximately) 8,500,000 pieces of paper each slightly larger than an A3 sheet that make up the schedules, filled in by each head of household or similar authority. There are also 38,000 volumes of enumerators' summary books (document reference RG 78) to accompany the census. They hold useful and unique information that supports the census information but they do not provide the level of personal details that can be found in the census schedules.

The 1911 census sustained water damage many years ago, before it was transferred to The National Archives. This damage affected about 5% of the volumes and means that information is not retrievable from parts of these volumes. There is only one volume missing from the whole series in total.

Census Details

The details recorded for each person were:

Name and surname
Relationship to head of family
Age - this was recorded in separate columns for male and female
Marital condition
Number of years married (present marriage, question only answered by married women)
Number of children born to present marriage, number that are still living, number who have died. (again present marriage, married women only)
Personal occupation
Industry/service with which worker is connected
Employment status
Birthplace
Nationality (if born in a foreign country)
Infirmity, one of deaf, dumb, blind, lunatic, imbecile or feeble minded. The age at which the "infirmity came on" was also required. This information is considered personally sensitive and will not be available until 2012.

New information in the 1911 census was concerned with the family, that is the questions that had to be answered by married women on how long they had been married and how many children there were from the marriage. An article in The Times in January 1911 on the coming census said that "no such inquiry had been made at any previous Census, but its bearing on much-debated problems of national progress and retrogression is clear" - nothing changes!

Also extra information was required on professions or trade rather than simply "occupation" as asked in the previous census. The two pieces of information required, "Industry/service with which worker is connected" and "Employment status", would mean for example that someone who was unemployed at the time of the census would still give his or her usual occupation.

Organising the Census

Very precise instructions were given to try and ensure every one was counted once and only once. The rule was that someone should be included if they passed the night of Sunday April 2 1911 in this dwelling and were alive at midnight or arrived at the dwelling the following morning not having been enumerated elsewhere - intended to catch night workers. This did not include new-born children - anyone born after midnight should not have been enumerated.

Caravans and tents that were occupied on census night were counted as an inhabited dwelling. It was the job of the police to enumerate everyone who passed the night in "barns, outhouses or in the open air". To try and reduce the number of vagrants on the street, the Salvation Army opened up extra shelters for the night.

The Times reported the day after the census that the King and Queen had set an excellent example in "the careful and accurate filling-up of the census schedules" although their personal involvement appears to have been limited to telling palace staff to do the work, carefully and accurately.

It was the job of the 36,000 enumerators, mainly men, to distribute and then collect on Monday April 3rd the completed census schedules. They were paid a minimum fee of 21s plus 3s6d for every 100 persons enumerated after the first 400 as well as an allowance of 1s for every mile in excess of six "necessarily traversed in collecting the schedules". As well as distributing, collecting and checking the schedules, they also had to provide a summary of the dwellings and population in each enumeration district but they were spared the laborious work required in earlier censuses of copying schedules into the enumeration book.

Many of the enumerators worked for Boards of Guardians or other local authorities. There was concern before the census that if the headmaster of a primary school was absent doing his enumerator's duties, he would be at a disadvantage if the school were to be visited by an inspector, so inspectors were told not to choose that day to visit the school.

Failure to complete the census schedule was an offence, liable to a fine not exceeeding five pounds. The Suffragists campaign was in full flow at the time of the census and they planned to disrupt the census by staying out all night and refusing to complete a schedule. One group spent the night at a skating rink in Aldwych but they were counted there by the police so their action was considered a failure. The lack of names, age etc were seen as of secondary importance at the time although that will not be of much comfort to anyone trying to find details of suffragettes for their family tree.

Counting the Census

Once the enumerator's tasks were completed, the details were sent to a building in Millbank behind the Tate Gallery. Twenty-four calculating machines had been hired and installed there in preparation and details from the census were entered on to punched cards, one set of about 80 thousand for dwellings, a second set of about 4 million for married women and a third set of about 36 million for the rest of the population. The cards were punched to contain key information from the schedules and then sorting machines read the cards and sorted them.

The Times described how the "machines are worked and the division is accomplished by electricity. The cards pass between a wire brush and a brass roller. The wires on the brush press against one column of the card and, passing through the punched aperture in that column, establish electric contact with the roller at a spot opposite the aperture and corresponding to the particular class which the punched mark represents. A corresponding "jaw" immediately opens, the card slips into it, and is forced into one of 11 boxes representing as many classes".

All this was intended to produce the census results within a year. Provisional figures were produced on May 25th that year showing the population of England and Wales as 36 million, an increase of 10.9% since 1901.

3 comments:

Drakefield said...

I have dutifully supplied spelling corrections. All of which I know to be true. Today I had a whole series of emails from the administrators saying that they rejected my corrections. I don't know why and they don't give any more detail. It's a shame because this inhibits access to the right info. I tried to reply but this is not possible. Also their email spelt the word 'original' as 'origianl'.
"If the transcription matches the origianl census image, then we will not amend it as we aim to provide you with an exact copy of the original census page."

Patrick

Drakefield said...

When the 1901 Census came out, there was a clever programme on the web that listed everyone in a household from the main search page. Does anyone have this again?

stephen saffin said...

In the UK 1911 census the enumerators left numerical codes, to indicate information regarding the occupiers of whatever house they were listing. Where can the meaning of these numerical codes be found?