The 1921 Census

For the last five years or so, as each new year begins, I can’t help but think we’re getting nearer and nearer a very significant date for genealogists: the release of the 1921 Great Britain census. Here are some basics which you may or may not know about this landmark:

  • The 1921 census was taken on the night of Sunday, 19th June 1921.
  • It was taken in England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
  • Owing to the Civil War which was then raging, it was not taken in Ireland (the first census after 1921 was taken on the night of 18th to 19th April 1926, and includes Northern Ireland).
  • The original date for the 1921 census was scheduled to be 24th April; however, it was postponed owing to the Black Friday strike by coal miners, railwaymen and transport workers.
  • Although the new date did avoid “big industrial holidays in the North”, it did clash with the Macclesfield industrial holiday. The fact that the census was taken in summer could mean that some families are listed as “living” away from their usual abode.
  • The 1921 Census shows that Great Britain had a population of 42,767,530 in 1921 – that’s an increase of 4.7% compared to 1911, with 20,430,623 males and 22,336,907 females.
  • The 1921 census shows a very large population increase in certain seaside towns, such as Blackpool (64%) and Southend-on-Sea (50%).
  • The questions asked to be filled in on each census form vary from those asked in 1911, and are as follows: name of person; relationship to head of household; age (now required in years and completed months, rather than just years as in previous censuses); sex; if aged 15 or over, whether single, married or divorced; if under the age of 15, whether parents are living, “both alive”, “father dead”, “mother dead” or “both dead”; birthplace, county and town or parish (or country plus state, province or district for persons born abroad); if born abroad, nationality; whether attending school or other educational establishment; trade; employer; place of work; number and ages of living children or stepchildren under 16.
  • Among the new questions introduced in 1921 we can highlight whether a marriage had been dissolved by divorce. Divorces had increased considerably in the last decade (16682 people were said to be divorced on the returns, although there is considerable doubt on the reliability of these numbers), and so it made it to the census.
  • The so-called “fertility” question introduced in 1911 (asking for the number of years of the marriage and the number of children born to the said marriage) was dropped in 1921, the reason being that the results from the previous census had not yet been tabulated.
  • The “health” question asking if a person was blind, deaf or dumb was also removed, allegedly on the grounds that the parents had objected to giving this information about their children, with the result that answers given in the previous census were unreliable.
  • In Wales (including Monmouthshire) an extra question was included for each person aged three or over, asking if they spoke English and Welsh, English only or Welsh only.
  • In Scotland there was also an additional question about whether each person (over the age of three) spoke Gaelic only.
  • Scotland’s 1921 census also includes a questions asking if an individual is  entitled to benefits under the National Insurance (Health) Acts.
  • A copy of the 1921 Census form (the household form for England) can be downloaded here, courtesy of the Office for National Statistics website.

Form page of a blank 1921 census.

So, now we have seen what we can expect from the 1921 census, when can we expect to see it? Well, usually a 100 year-moratorium should be respected, which means we would need to wait until early 2022 for it to be released!

However, the 1911 census, as many of you will remember, was actually released early. In April 2007, the National Archives announced that brightsolid would be their partner in the project to put the 1911 census for England and Wales online. As from 13th January 2009, the 1911 census has been available via brightsolid’s genealogy subsidiary Findmypast on a dedicated website, with a phased release, county by county; this includes images and transcription data, initially on a pay-per-view basis only. Since then, the 1911 census has become available on other pay-per-view websites such as Ancestry. A caveat to this is that “personally sensitive” information for the 1911 census was not made available until 3rd January 2012 (thus respecting the 100 year-rule). This included “details of infirmity or other health-related information, information about family relationships which would usually have been kept secret and information about very young children who were born in prison”.

It looks unlikely that the 1921 census will be made available as quickly as the 1911 was (we would be looking at a release date within the next twelve months). But we can hope for the best!

Until the 1921 census becomes available, genealogists need to rely on existing resources to continue researching their family tree into the 20th century. Probably the most interesting of all resources is the 1939 UK Register (also available through FindMyPast), which was taken only weeks after the outbreak of World War II and, although it is not a census in stricto sensu, it does bridge the gap between the 1930’s and the 1940’s. Remember that the entire 1931 census, with the exception of the forms relating to Scotland, was rather mysteriously destroyed in a fire on 19 December 1942, while the 1941 census never took place due to the war. Therefore, genealogists’ excitement at the release of the 1921 census will be well justified – it will be the last nation-wide census to be released until the year 2052!

Instructions page of the 1921 Census.


This entry was posted in 1911 Census, 1921 Census, 1939 UK Register,, FindMyPast, The National Archives. Bookmark the permalink.

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