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Is there a burning question you wished you’d asked your grandparents when they were alive?
Soon, you can discover where they were, what they were doing (and who they were doing it with!) in the summer of 1921.
The 1921 Census of England and Wales has been locked away for over a century.
Family history website, Findmypast has been chosen by The National Archives and the Office for National Statistics to preserve and digitise this precious snapshot of our nation’s history. Records detailing almost 38 million lives will be available to explore online, exclusively at Findmypast, from 6 January 2022.
The 1921 Census broke new ground. It was the first to capture employer details, accept divorce as a marital status and the first taken after the turmoil of the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic.
Earlier censuses didn’t include employment credentials. So, for the first time, you’ll discover who your great aunt worked for and with. The records provide a never-before-seen glimpse into the fabric of communities and businesses across England and Wales at the time.
The 1921 Census of England and Wales ushered in a forward-facing sense of optimism, paving the way for the Roaring ‘20s. War was over. Women had won the vote just a few years earlier and the first commercial flights and television broadcasts were on the horizon.
The records are packed with pioneers. You’ll find the first female in the police force, the earliest Royal Air Force pilots and the first Labour government ministers.
The parallels with today’s world, a century later, are fascinating. Our ancestors were also dealing with the fallout of a global pandemic. The 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak killed millions worldwide. Some even say we’re entering the new Roaring ‘20s now.
After it had been swept under the rug for generations, divorce was no longer taboo. Over 16,600 people declared themselves as divorced in the 1921 Census and it’s thought there were many more who continued to hide it.
The 1920s was a decade of huge change for women in Britain. They were more independent than ever before. Flapper girls started a movement. Skirts and haircuts got shorter. Women were no longer just housewives and domestic servants. They were out in the world earning their own money, wearing makeup, smoking, drinking and enjoying themselves.
It’s taken nearly three years of painstaking work to meticulously conserve, transcribe, scan and digitise the 1921 Census of England and Wales. It’s the largest digitisation project ever undertaken by Findmypast and The National Archives.
The sheer scope and scale of the work is mind-blowing.
The census returns were housed on 1.6 kilometres of shelving (that’s the equivalent of 16 football pitches!) in a high-security studio at the Office of National Statistics in Titchfield, Hampshire. From them, 8.5 million household schedules were individually unpicked from 30,000 bound volumes.
Storing the digital replica of the census takes up around 1.4 petabytes of space. To put that into perspective, a petabyte of MP3 files would give you a music playlist that is 2,000 years long!
A team of hundreds of specialists have been working throughout the pandemic to transform the delicate original paper documents to fully-transcribed, fully-searchable colour scans that can be accessed wherever you are in the world, any time of the day or night. It’s a part of history that’s now been preserved for the rest of time.
At full capacity, the digitisation studio at Titchfield had more than 30 staff members on site. Every single one of the records had to be handled by a specially-trained conservation technician who carefully carried out a host of incredibly intricate tasks. They removed old pins, repaired tears, ironed out folds and kinks and gently teased apart any pages that were stuck together. Once every page was examined, it was cleaned.
Then the pages were passed to the scanning team who created a digital image of every single page. Every scanned image was then quality checked to make sure that it’s perfect, before being stored on a secure server.
From that server, specially-trained transcription teams interpreted and indexed every detail. The transcripts were then added into a database and mapped to the relevant scanned record.
With all of this essential work complete, the census records are now being passed to Findmypast’s data and product teams, who are uploading all of them to findmypast.co.uk and creating a seamless search experience, ready for launch on 6 January.
Once launched, every transcribed element of the 1921 Census of England and Wales will be searchable. You’ll be able to look for any individual, address or employer. You can narrow down your search with easy-to-use filters, helping you pinpoint the record you’re after in seconds.
Perhaps you want to see all the people that worked as ironworkers or the population of the town of Ludlow in Shropshire. Maybe you want to see the people who lived on a street in 1921, or even who lived in your house.
You might want to learn who stood where you stand, or perhaps who might have made that dent above the fireplace when they tried to move a piano. Whatever your interest, the 1921 Census will reveal a new part of history for you.
Even better, with a website like Findmypast, you can connect the 1921 Census to all of the other records that conjure up the bigger picture of your past. Did your great grandfather serve in the First World War? Where was your family a decade earlier when the 1911 Census was taken? Exploring Findmypast’s records and newspaper archives is like having your very own episode of Who Do You Think You Are? The potential family discoveries are limitless.
The 1921 Census release may be the last of its kind in our lifetimes. The 1931 Census was destroyed in a fire and with World War 2 raging in 1941, no census was taken. The 1951 Census won’t be released until 2052.
When it’s released in January, exploring the 1921 Census of England and Wales might change the way you see your family. Or even how you see yourself.
The only question left to answer is, just where will your past take you?