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The 1921 UK Census: What It Is and When It Will Be Released

By Editors of Family Tree Magazine
Image courtesy Findmypast

If you’ve hit a brick wall with your UK ancestry, you might be in luck. The 1921 UK census is due to be released in 2022, with Findmypast as the digitization partner. Despite setbacks caused by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting limitations, Findmypast is moving forward with the project. Findmypast plans to “deliver digital image capture and transcribe text data in a way that will enable family historians across the globe to conduct meaningful searches of these important records for the very first time,” according to a recent press release.

Here’s a look at what’s in the 1921 UK census, and how soon you can expect to use it in your research.

Details in the 1921 UK Census

Like the United States, the United Kingdom took regular censuses of its population every 10 years. And—also like the US federal census—the UK census is subject to privacy restrictions. The 1841–1911 censuses have been released to the public, but the 1921 census won’t be released until 2022 due to a “100-year” privacy rule. (And the 1921 census will be the last to be released for England and Wales for decades; 1931 returns for those two countries were mostly destroyed in a fire.)

The 1921 census, taken on June 19, provides greater detail than previous years’ population counts. In addition to the questions asked in 1911, the 1921 census also asked for:

  • place of employment and employer’s name
  • what “materials” (e.g., industry) the respondent worked in
  • detailed education questions
  • if a marriage that ended did so because of divorce

You can see a full list of questions here. The 1921 UK census was also the first in which householders could submit separate confidential returns. All those over the age of 15 had to provide information about their martial status, while those younger than 15 had to indicate whether their parents were still alive.

How the 1921 UK Census is Digitized

With so many details—and more than 37 million individuals surveyed—the census is no small collection. According to Findmypast, the census is made up of 28,000 volumes (each containing 300 schedules) that take up 1.6 linear kilometres (roughly 1 mile) of shelving. This includes 8.5 million questionnaires (or RG 15 schedules) in the householder’s writing, plus nearly 2,000 volumes of Plans of Division (booklets in which registrars described how an area was divided into registration districts).

As a result (and given their advanced age), the materials are delicate and often hard to read, requiring careful handling. “More than 30 staff members are required in the conservation and scanning studio, handling fragile physical documents that have remained securely stored for 100 years,” Findmypast explains.

There’s no “rush job” when it comes to a project of this magnitude. In addition to the sheer amount of documents, each of those 28,000 volumes must be handled by a trained conservation technician. This person is responsible for a variety of specialized tasks, including:

  • removing any pins or other objects that can damage the paper
  • correcting folds that are covering the text
  • separating any pages that are stuck together
  • restoring torn pages

Every page is examined, cleaned and repaired, then passed to Findmypast’s scanning team. Each page (along with any attachment) is then scanned, along with the front and back covers of each volume. Finally, each image is quality-checked before being stored on a secure server. Findmypast estimates the final product will include some 20 million images.

When Will the 1921 UK Census Be Released?

Despite COVID restrictions impacting various aspects of the project, Findmypast says the company is still on track for a full online release in early 2022, although an exact launch date is yet to be announced. “Provided there are no further interruptions to the current rate of digitization, Findmypast are confident that original project timelines will be met” according to the company’s press release.

Learn more about the 1921 UK census on Findmypast here.

Last updated, May 2021.

We’ll let you in on search secrets to find your English and Welsh ancestors in UK census records.

Learn how to find your ancestors on the Findmypast.com with these 12 strategies.

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