Comparing the census – 1911 vs 2011

I’ve been researching my family history for a lot of years’ starting with trips to London to look up birth, marriage and death certificates and pore over the micofiche of the various censuses (censii???).

Today, it’s a lot easier, the national records are all online and I can sit on the couch and do almost all my research. Which is ironic as I now live in walking distance of the National Archives so a trip to do research does not need an all day trip down to London. I pay for access; if you go to the archives you get the same records on computer but for free.

I’ve been able to trace family all the way through, back from 1911 to 1841, seeing how many children survived, how the jobs stayed consistent across the years, how little some people moved. In the 1911 edition, they introduced a new piece of information – how long has a couple been married. Makes it a lot easier to track down the marriage certificate. Even better, the scanned records are now the original from the household, not the summaries. So you can now see an example of your relatives’ handwriting.

The 1911 census from James Hickman, my great-great-great-grandfather.

I was interested in doing the 2011 census; it would be the first one I’d have the chance to complete. I was either abroad or not the householder for the previous ones. But I was so disappointed. It was not the elegant single form just after the basics. it was a long, complicated set of pages, after all sorts of information about jobs, religion and the house I lived in. I vaguely understand why they want this (although not particularly happy about who is processing the data), but it seems to have grown because it could.

But I’m also disappointed for the future family historian. The information will ONLY be available online – you can complete it fully digitally if you want, you don’t need to fill in the form. There is a strong possibility that the data won’t be there in 100 years time, that it won’t be accessible. And the historian will not have the original documents to review, something that is always recommended when investigating digital records. It’s a shame that we’re not keeping that connection – I love the fact I can research digitally but have misgivings about moving purely that way for such important records that are supposed to last a century at least.

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