The 1921 Census of England and Wales

January 2022 saw the release of the long awaited 1921 census for England and Wales – currently only available through Findmypast who have the exclusive rights to the scanning and transcribing of the information for a few years – much like the deal made with the National Archives with the 1911 census. The censuses in this country have a 100-year closure period meaning that they cannot be made public for 100 years due to the records containing personal information about individuals who may still be alive. This is the last census that will be available for at least another 30 years as the 1931 census was destroyed in World War II, the 1941 census did not take place due to the war so the next one that would be made available will be the 1951 census – in 2052. In the meantime Findmypast had previously released the 1939 Register which was created at the outbreak of World War II which created identity cards. It was then used when rationing came into force in 1940 and went on to be used by the National Health Service and so was updated with information up until 1991 – and this can be seen with notations where women had married with their new name being given. This register serves as a bridge between the gap from the 1921 and 1951 censuses for genealogists.

Why just England and Wales? Well the National Records of Scotland have ownership of the Scottish 1921 census and there are plans to release that later in 2022 via ScotlandsPeople. There was no census taken in 1921 in Ireland and Northern Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence – but a later census of Ireland and Northern Ireland was undertaken in 1926.

As with the release of the 1911 census back in 2012 – Findmypast charge a fee to view both the transcription of a record and the image itself which is not covered under any existing subscription fee. Given most of us will have plenty of households to look up, this can be a costly affair. Quite a number of people who are new to researching and who did not experience the same situation back in 2012 are quite angry about it – thinking that there was no such fee to access the other censuses. The 1939 Register was also dealt with in this way with the records not coming under the subscription fee for a period of time. However we must bear in mind the huge cost to Findmypast to provide this valuable source of information to us, not just in terms of the cost to buy the exclusive rights to the data, but also to undertake preservation and restoration, high resolution scanning, transcriptions and hosting of that data. It is a big undertaking – which has taken three years, and eventually it will fall under the subscription and then also likely be available to other companies like Ancestry, as was the case for the 1911 census and the 1939 Register. Genealogy can be an expensive hobby/profession – it would be lovely if everything was free to access but that just isn’t possible.

Personally I can afford to purchase the records I need – it does help a little that existing Pro subscribers get a 10% discount on the cost – so the normal UK price of an image is £3.50 – but with the discount it is £3.15 and for a transcription it is £2.50 – with the discount – £2.25. However I do appreciate that this is pretty pricey for many people and so there will be a large chunk of genealogists who will be choosing to wait until this comes under subscription or spread out their purchases over a number of months. It is available for free when accessing Findmypast when visiting The National Archives at Kew, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and Manchester Central Library.

So what information can be found on the 1921 census? Those of you who have experience in using the census records for Scotland, England and Wales will be familiar with the fact that the content of the censuses changed over the years, however it might be worth having a quick recap!

1921 Census Instructions – from The National Archives

The census process across this country began in 1801 but was just statistical information until we get to the 1841 census. There were some parishes where a little more information was provided but often these do not survive – however there are some in Norfolk which have been transcribed – some of which provide details of the names of the head of the household, number of males and females and how many fall under particular age groups. You can find this information here. The censuses were taken every ten years.

In 1841 – which was taken on 6th June – we got to see the names of all people in a household – although mostly not including any middle names, details about address (although not always providing a house number, but a road, or in more rural areas may just be the village/hamlet name), sex, the ages of the members of the household – although ages were often rounded up or down to the nearest 5 years for people over the age of 15. Occupations were given and details around place of birth limited to whether or not the individual was born in the county they currently live in or whether in Scotland, Ireland or foreign parts. The relationships between the members of the household are not given.

The 1851 census – which was taken on 30th March – then expanded more on names to provide a middle name or at least an initial, relationship between the household members and the head of the household, marital status, places of birth to give more specific information in terms of a parish and county – if overseas then just the country, the ages were now more accurate with no rounding, and now included a column to give details about any disabilities – if blind, deaf and/or dumb.

The 1861 census – taken on 7th April – covered the same information as in 1851.

The 1871 census – taken on 2nd April – covered the same information as in 1861 but the disability section was expanded to cover 1. Blind 2. Deaf and Dumb 3. Imbecile or Idiot 4. Lunatic.

The 1881 census – taken on 3rd April – covered the same information as in 1871.

The 1891 census – taken on 5th April – covered the same information as in 1881 but with extra information on occupation as to whether an employer, employed or neither an employer or employed. It also asked in Wales whether the language spoken was English or Welsh.

The 1901 census – taken on 31st March – had the same information as in 1891 but with the additions of ‘Employer, Worker or Own account’, a new column ‘If working at home’ and another language question for residents of the Isle of Man (English or Manx.)

The 1911 census – taken on 2nd April – was different in that the majority of the enumerators schedules no longer exist – these are what we are used to seeing when viewing the images of the older censuses. They were what the enumerator compiled from collating all the household forms which were then destroyed. The 1911 census – we actually see the household forms so we can see our ancestor’s handwriting and signatures. This census asked more information around how many years a couple had been married for and how many children they had and how many of those children were still alive – a question only for married women to answer. This is particularly useful for tracing any children born and died between censuses. The address is given on the bottom right hand corner of the form but also provided on a separate cover sheet. There was some extra information around employment and place of birth including anything around naturalisation and more information around disabilities as to what age the condition had arisen.

The 1921 census – was due to be taken on 24th April but was postponed until 19th June due to industrial unrest. The GRO (General Register Office) felt it may be difficult to gather accurate information in the affected areas during this time so it was agreed to push it back. This census again is the household forms – the individuals have to provide their age on the census night by years and months. For children under the age of 15 it had to be stated whether both parents were still alive or not and also if they were in full time or part time education. Sadly the question asked in 1911 around number of years married and number of children was not asked in this census. Although married men, widows and widowers were asked to put details as to the number and ages of living children and step-children they had under the age of 16 in the final section. However there is more information provided about employment – to give a name and address of the employer. The household address is not noted on the form but is on a separate cover sheet which is included in the cost to purchase the image along with some other supporting pages.

Blank Example 1921 Census Form – from 1921.census.com

For more information around the censuses please refer to this helpful article by the National Archives. Also for information specific to Findmypast’s undertaking of the work to provide access to the 1921 census read their article here.

At the moment some of the transcriptions of the 1921 census can be a bit hit and miss, and given the cost to view transcriptions as well as images, I advise to be a bit savvy with your searching techniques – look for several family members to see if it looks like the same people are in the same household. You can click on the link to view the transcription or image without having to confirm the purchase and it will give you a mini transcription of some names of the other members of the household. If you think you have the right one – then it is better to just get the image rather than go for the transcription as well to save some money.

Have I found out some interesting things with my own research so far using the 1921 census? I have!

For me one of the most interesting things is finding out details about where people worked and who they worked for. It is all very well knowing generally what someone did for a living, but it adds that extra bit of context and reality to it to know the location and name of the employer. From that you can do further research into the company, look up how far away their place of work was from home and you can also find out if family members worked at the same place too.

As with all censuses it is a snapshot into one night in a decade, and there will be instances where people are not at home who we would expect to be, and people who cannot be found. There will be times when people got confused about the rules as to who they should and shouldn’t include in their household with people putting down a child who normally lived at home with them who was actually not home that night, and might be with grandparents or other family members or visiting a friend and enumerated with them too and effectively listed twice. There may be people who had someone visiting them who didn’t ordinarily live with them and therefore left them off their form and therefore aren’t recorded at all.

Currently I am puzzling over the whereabouts of the eldest child of my husband’s maternal great grandparents. He would be about 6 years old in 1921, William Eric Johnson, born in Leicester. He doesn’t appear at home with his parents Thomas William and Mary Ann Johnson. He died when he was 21, from a condition that may have been caused by having Rheumatic Fever as a child. It is possible he might have been in hospital that night, but I would expect to still find him enumerated. His parents had recently lost their infant daughter Marjorie May Johnson who had died in December 1920 aged just 3 months. They were yet to have their final child Kenneth Thomas – my husband’s maternal grandfather who would be born a year after the census was taken. He was not with his mother’s grandparents (his mother Mary Ann nee Rawlins was the illegitimate child of an Amelia Brightwell Rawlins who had died when Mary Ann was 6 years old and she was raised by her maternal grandparents William Brightwell Rawlins and Julia Wafforne), and his father’s parents had died prior to the census. It might be that his name has been mistranscribed – but I will keep looking for him.

I was also able to confirm a family connection on my husband’s tree relating to the first husband of his paternal great grandmother. His great grandmother Leah May Carter had first been married to Pierce James Simons, who sadly died in 1918 in WWI. In 1921 she went on to marry Cornelius George Darby and had one child – Cornelius Pierce Darby. At the time of the census she wasn’t yet married to Cornelius who was still at home with his parents and siblings. She was living alone next door to her widowed father and her unmarried siblings. Some time ago I had looked into the family of her first husband and found he had a number of brothers – one of which – Victor – had also sadly died in WWI. He had another brother called Joseph Herbert who had first been married to Ada Bell in 1905 but seemed to have divorced her. I had found a marriage in 1933 between him and an Eliza A Challoner. The Challoner name intrigued me as Cornelius George Darby’s mother was Ada Challoner. She had a sister called Eliza but her middle initial was a J for Jane not an A, so I had assumed it was no direct relation. I then found Ada’s widowed mother Martha Challoner on the 1921 census with her unmarried daughter Eliza – and one of Eliza’s illegitimate children Denis Roland aged 17 (she also had a daughter Catherine Martha who had recently married and was then living with her new husband.) And with them was a Herbert Simons, a Tailor’s Cutter who was aged 37 and married. It all fit with Joseph Herbert Simons – and a check of the 1939 Register confirmed it was the same couple as they were listed together with her son Denis. It made me wonder if the Simons family were already known to the Challoner family in order for Leah to have then met Cornelius via them? It always fascinates me thinking about how our ancestors came to meet their future spouses.

Have you been using the 1921 census yet? How has your experience been? Have you made any interesting discoveries? Let me know!