1921 census release: why it’s so significant

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6th January 2022 was a big day in the world of genealogy. It marked the release of the 1921 census of England and Wales, plus the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, a long-anticipated and important day for genealogists. Published by Findmypast, the release caused an excitable commotion in the genealogy world, both for hobbyists and professionals alike.

The 1921 census gives a detailed review of the lives of over 38 million people in England, Wales, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Those elsewhere in the UK will have to wait a little longer, with the Scottish census, to be published by ScotlandsPeople, due to be available later on this year. Those in Northern Ireland will have to show even greater patience, with the next census release not due until the publication of the 1926 census.

Census records remain a key research tool in helping genealogists reconstruct family trees. They help detail lives, piecing together momentous events, and are a window not just into family history, but into life itself at the time. They aren’t the only genealogy research tools out there of course, but are important nonetheless, particularly for those that dabble in genealogy as a pastime.

Taken once a decade, census records are only released to the public after 100 years. So why the particular fanfare this time around? As any self-respecting genealogist will tell you, the 1921 census has particular additional importance.

Firstly, the 1921 data helps bridge an extensive gap in records. Unfortunately, the 1931 records were destroyed in a fire, and no census took place in 1941 due to World War Two (though there was a national register taken in 1939, this was not comparable to the detail normally found in a census). The 1921 census will therefore be the last release for 30 years.

Secondly, the 1921 census included additional information – it was the first to record divorced as a marital status. It also enabled place of work, employer, and industry to be listed together for the first time, giving genealogists vital additional information to help in their research.

Amongst other relevant data captured, age was also recorded as years and number of completed months i.e., 30 years and 2 months. The place of birth and nationality of those born outside of the UK was also noted for the first time.

Just prior to the 1921 census was the 1919 Sex Disqualifications (Removal) Act, which meant it was then illegal to prevent women from entering professions and professional bodies based purely on the fact that they were women. Therefore, for the first time within a census, we see women recorded as working within the legal profession.

Professional probate genealogists do of course refer to census records in their efforts at finding entitled next of kin and reverse engineering family trees. Last week’s census publication day was certainly a significant date that researchers at Anglia Research had long had in their diaries. Access to this new data can help resolve new queries quicker and even assist in cracking long unsolved cases.

The 1921 information will, without doubt, assist probate genealogists with their historic and future work, particularly as it bridges the period between the 1911 census and the 1939 Register. With the next full census not having taken place until 1951, a significant gap of 30 years, the importance of the publishing of the 1921 census cannot be overstated.

To find out more information about the services offered by Anglia Research, please visit their website.  Alternatively, you can contact Anglia Reach via email: [email protected] or free phone 0800 033 4034.

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