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Genealogy Building Blocks – Other Census

Genealogy Building Blocks – Other Census

Genealogy Building Blocks – Other Census. In the previous post in the Building Blocks series we talked about the censuses that were taken, and still are, every 10 years. The ones available for genealogists to search date from 1841 – 1911. These are easily available via Ancestry and FindMyPast plus of course you can search them at The National Archives, Kew, London. But what about the census that we can’t view as yet?

1921 Census

Traditionally the census was taken sometime in March/April. However in 1921 the of data for the census had to be postponed because of a major strike by coal miners, railwaymen and transport workers. It was to have been taken on the night of 24 April, but was deferred for two months and eventually took place on 19th June. This caused a significant rise in the population of some seaside towns as many people were away from home on holiday. So when this census is released on 1 January 2022 be aware that some of your ancestors may not be where you think they should be. One upside of this is that we will know where our families like to take a break away from work!

Generally the questions asked were similar to the 1911 census, but there are some differences.

  • Age was required in years and months.
  • Status was required to be married single or divorced if over 15 years, if under then it had to be stated if both parents were alive or one of them deceased.
  • More precise information as to place of birth if person was born abroad.
  • Nationality if born abroad
  • If attending school details were required.
  • More in-depth information about occupations than previously asked.
  • Name of employer and address of place of work
  • Number and ages of all children and step-children of adults named on the form even if the children were not living in the household.
  • Those over 3 years of age living in Wales and Monmouthshire were asked if they spoke either Welsh, English or both.

<a target="_blank" href="">Singled Out:</a><img src="//" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />These questions reflected how society was changing and is the first census after the end of WW1. There will, of course, be a lot less young men recorded, but also you will see a much bigger number of unmarried women. There is a fascinating book called “Singled Out” by Virginia Ironside which tells the story of the lives of these women.  You can see that we have something very exciting and potentially helpful to look forward to come 1 January 2022. If you can’t wait until 2022 to see what the census will look like then you can view a blank form from the Office for National Statistics website. 

1931 Census

Sadly we won’t ever be able to see the 1931 census because it was destroyed in a fire on the 19 December 1942. The documents which included the schedules, enumerators books and street plans were stored in a warehouse in Hayes, Middlesex. It would seem that it had been a general store for government departments as it also contained a large amount of furniture. For reasons which seem still to be a mystery, despite an investigation at the time, the fire destroyed the building and it’s contents. It wasn’t due to enemy action and no doubt the country had other things to worry about than a “load of old papers and furniture”! The General Register Office did send a Mr W A Derrick and a Mr Farrow to Hayes to view the devastation and report back, their report still exists even if the census doesn’t.  Mr Derrick does make some recommendations along the lines of we really should look after these records better and exactly where is the 1921 census stored.

1939 Register

With war looming the government knew that it needed to know precisely who was in the country for the purpose of enlistment into the armed, directing into vital industries such as munitions, evacuation of children out of areas of danger and the issuing of ration books. It was recognised that a census would, most likely, not be taken in 1941 so a basis census was taken in 29th September 1939. It was named The 1939 Register. The register covered  the whole of Great Britain and also Northern Ireland. Forms were issued to every household and enumerators were tasked with collecting the forms, going over the details on the form and issuing identity cards immediately. It was a legal requirement to carry these identity cards at all times and that requirement was not abolished until 1952.

The population saw the importance of  the 1939 Register and therefore it is almost 100% complete, the objections that were made to being included in previous census were generally not made. Because of the loss of the 1931 census and the lack of a 1941 census there is a big gap for genealogists from 1921 to 1951, the 1939 Register fills that void and is one of the most important 20th century documents for family history research.

Details relating to those whose birth date is less than 100 years and a day ago and are still alive are officially closed for privacy reasons. When viewing the register online those names and details are blacked out. Up until 1991 the register was updated and records released – in other words the blacked out section was removed. If the person has died after 1991 then an application can be made to The National Archives to release those records or if a subscriber to FindMyPast who have the licence to place these records online an application can be made through their website. A scanned copy of the death certificate is required.

The 1939 Register has the following information:-

  • Address
  • Full Name
  • Sex
  • Date of Birth
  • Marital  Status
  • Personal Occupation

There are sometimes notes to the right stating if they belonged to the ARP or to organisations as St John’s Ambulance. Also when women married they would be issued with a new  identity card in their married name. The register was then altered by crossing out their maiden name and writing above their married name. This can be very helpful to family historians. The search forms for the register, both basis and advanced are very easy to use.

The good news is that unlike the 1921 and 1931 census the 1939 Register is available for viewing now either at The National Archives, Kew London or online at FindMyPast. There is no charge for accessing the records at The National Archives, but of course there is a requirement to be a subscriber for viewing them online through FindMyPast.  It should be noted that the 1939 Register is a digital-only record, even at The National Archives. The original register books are held by NHS Digital because they were used to set up the National Health Scheme, and as such are not on site at TNA. However The National Archives do have an online guide to the Register.

There are a couple of interesting short video’s made by FindMyPast about the 1939 Register. The first is by Audrey Collins of The National Archives Click Here and the second is the work that went into preparing the documents for use by genealogists Click Here.












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