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Duration 7:14

Introducing the 1911 census – British Sign Language Video

Mark Pearsall is a family history specialist at The National Archives. Here he provides an introduction to the newly released 1911 census and tells us how invaluable it will be for family historians.


Interviewer:  The National Archives’ podcast Series. ‘Introducing the1911 census’.
Mark Pearsall is a family history specialist at The National Archives.  Here, he provides an introduction to the newly released 1911 census, and tells us how invaluable it will be for family historians.
What is the 1911 census? Why do we keep hearing about it in the News?

Mark Pearsall: We are here to announce the launch of the 1911 census online on a new website,, which actually releases the original census returns of the 1911 census for England and Wales.

Interviewer: What makes the 1911 census different from previous censuses?

Mark Pearsall: The 1911 census is the first one where you get the actual household schedule filled in by the householder, listing wife, children, all the people present in the household on that day.  So it’s actually in the handwriting of the actual householder themselves.  And the schedules were not copied into an enumerator’s books. So they include mistakes and errors that the householder may have made while filling out the schedule.

So, you can get details of people that were away from the house on the night of the census. The information may be crossed out, because it shouldn’t have been entered.  But you can actually see that somebody else was a member of the household and is elsewhere.
You can also get children that have died because one of the questions asked is how many children a married couple had, how many are alive and how many have died. And sometimes the householder will actually put down the names of children that have died; these will be crossed out, but it gives you that information that you wouldn’t get from earlier censuses.

Interviewer: Why has it been released early?

Mark Pearsall: The censuses were normally closed for 100 years.  But the Information Commissioner reviewed the 1911 census under the ‘Freedom of Information Act 2000’ and decided there was no statutory restriction on releasing the bulk of the census information early.  Some information relating to disabilities of individuals, whether they’re blind, deaf or dumb, or on infants that may be with their mothers that are serving terms of imprisonment, have been redacted or sort of blanked out, so that you can’t see sensitive information. But apart from that sensitive information, the rest of the return, the schedule, is now being made available.

Interviewer: Are there any famous names in this census?

Mark Pearsall: Well, the census includes everybody present in a house or household, on the night of Sunday 2nd April, 1911. So, there were plenty of famous names. From the Royal Family, the King and Queen, the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, Winston Churchill and his wife in their household in London; and other famous names, available up and down the country. So you can search names of individuals, industrialists, businessmen, personalities, celebrities and even the ancestors of personalities and celebrities. You can pick up information about them, from the census returns.

Interviewer: Why is the 1911 census of benefit to family historians?

Mark Pearsall: The 1911 census is of benefit to family historians because it shortens the gap that you need to get, to get back to a census return or back to birth, marriage and death records for earlier generations.  A lot of people will actually know members of the family that are alive in 1911.  So, there will be people that have their parents or grandparents in the 1911 census, and they will be able to find out their ages for birth certificates; they can find out where they came from, for looking at earlier census returns.  And of course, there are people, because it’s less than 100 years, there are people that are still alive, that will appear in the 1911 census as well. So many infants in the 1911 census will be centenarians now.  In 1901, there were about 100 centenarians in the whole country. Now, there’s over 9000. So there are people in the census, that are still alive and there are people that were in the census that people now, will actually remember.

Interviewer: Can I see all census records for England and Wales?

Mark Pearsall: Not everything is available yet. The actual launch and release of the records is being staggered. At the moment, 80% of the English counties are available. Some of the Northern counties are not yet available. Cumberland, Westmoreland, Durham, Northumberland, The North Riding and the East Riding of Yorkshire and the Welsh counties are yet to be released. But these should be released by spring of 2009, depending on progress that may even be sooner than that.  There are records of Royal Navy and Royal Naval vessels and overseas army establishments, that are included in the 1911 census overseas returns. Those will be released at the end of the staggered release. So, again, probably in spring 2009.

Interviewer: Why has the 1911 census been digitised?

Mark Pearsall: One of the reasons the records have been digitised and made available online is because that makes them much easier to search.  And also allows greater access to people throughout the country and overseas. There would be great interest in commonwealth countries in the United States, where people have ancestors from the UK, looking for English and Welsh ancestry. And it does actually work out cheaper.  Although you have to pay to search the census returns, it’s much easier to actually find information from the digitised database than actually having to plough through reels of film or fiche as you did, with earlier censuses in the past.

Interviewer: How much does it cost to search the census?

Mark Pearsall: To search the census is free, but you have to pay to view the colour images and the transcripts. And you can buy packages from the 1911 websites. You can buy a basic package for £6.95 which gives you 60 credits, or, a package for £24.85, which gives you 280 credits or, a £49.95 package which gives you 600 credits.  It’s 30 credits to look at an image, and ten credits to look at a transcription of the census returns.

This talk was recorded on 13 January 2009, at The National Archives, Kew.  This podcast is Copyright, The National Archives, all rights reserved.

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