6th January 2022

1921 Census Special Edition



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Release of the England & Wales census

Is your transcript really necessary?

What can we learn from the 1921 Census?

Where's the address?

Transcription errors

Householder blunders

Census references

Limitations you should be aware of

Stop Press



The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 3rd January) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):



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Would you like to be repaid all the money you spend on 1921 census images between now and the end of January (maximum £175)? For a chance of winning this unique prize, one of many prizes that I'm giving away in my New Year Competition, log into your LostCousins account and click the personal 1921 Census link you'll find near the top of your My Summary page. (Click it at again at the start of each session to make sure your purchases are recorded.)


After the end of the month one lucky member will be chosen at random, but taking into account the number of competition entries each person has made. Every direct ancestor or blood relative you add to your My Ancestors page before the end of January counts as one entry, or two when you input relatives from any of the 1881 censuses that we use (Canada, Scotland, or England & Wales).


You can find out more about the prizes in the competition here. If you would like to support LostCousins but are not interested in winning your money back there's no need to log-in to your account, instead you can use this link to go to the 1921 Census.



Release of the England & Wales census

At one minute after midnight on the morning of Thursday 6th February hundreds of thousands of family historians attempted to take a first look at the 1921 Census for England & Wales. However it wasn't plain sailing – the site was very busy, leading to occasional error messages, and I understand that some people had problems with payments during the first hour.


Still, if you've waited 100 years for a census to be released, what's another hour?



Is your transcript really necessary?

As with previous censuses you can purchase an image of the handwritten document, or – for a slightly lower amount – you can purchase a transcript. I haven't bought any transcripts from this census, and have no intention of doing so – all the information I need is either included in the image, or included with the image. If you have limited funds my advice is to spend them on images, not transcripts.


But how do you find the right household, and how do you know when you've found it? There are lots of search options but I start with just name and year of birth (which in 1921 is more likely to be recorded accurately than in earlier censuses). If there's someone in the search results with the right birthplace and living where you'd expect to find them move the mouse over the transcript icon - you'll see a pop-up which gives the forenames of two more members of the household.


If you think you've found the right household try refining your search by adding the name of the parish, but deleting the forename and year of birth, Can you see the other names in the list? Are they the right age? Do the birthplaces look right?



What can we learn from the 1921 Census?

There was a world of difference between the 1901 and 1911 Censuses, and the additional information shown in the latter year proved invaluable in tracking down missing marriages and identifying children who had died without ever appearing on the census. The latter task was made significantly easier when the GRO released new birth indexes in 2016 which showed the mother's maiden name from the beginning of civil registration in 1837.


But can we expect to make as many discoveries in 1921? You bet! For a start, you'll find out where your ancestors were employed – not just WHO employed them, but where they worked. For example, the schedule for my grandfather and his family (below) gives his employer as Towler & Sons, engineers, and his place of work as High St, Stratford. You can even search for people who worked for a specific employer – perhaps something to save for when the census eventually becomes part of a subscription as it could involve large numbers of households.


Note: the photo on the right shows my grandfather (far right in the picture) with a group of fellow workers. At last it’s possible that they could be identified!


I've long-known what job my paternal grandfather did – he was a commercial traveller, selling lace. But it is only with the release of this census that I found out the name of the company he worked for – Real Lace Reproduction (Drapery) Ltd.


Other information included for the first time relates to children and their parents – as you can see from the column heading reproduced on the left (© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives) the head of household was required to state in respect of each child under 15 whether their parents were alive. Somewhat confusingly the same column was used to indicate whether persons over 15 were single, married, widowed, or divorced.


Tip: a lot of fuss has been made in the press about the relatively small number of divorced individuals shown in this census – but it's important to remember that some people would have got divorced in order to re-marry.


What else have I found out from the handful of households I've looked at so far? Soon after I began researching my family tree my father mentioned a name I'd never heard before: Martha Gawthorpe. She was described as a girl who helped his mother out by looking after dad and his brother, but as I mentioned in October I've never been able to pin down precisely who she was, as the surname Gawthorpe turned out to be a lot more common than I anticipated. It's particularly frustrating because she appears in several photos, but it's impossible to tell how old she is.


© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives


Well, now I know where she was born and – within a month – when. I wonder if I'll be able to trace any of her living relatives? Although she wasn't with my grandfather's family in 1911, if I can find her on that census I will be enter her as connected by employment – just one of many under-appreciated features of the LostCousins site!



Where's the address?

In 1911 the address was usually shown at the bottom right of the schedule, but in 1921 it's shown only on the front of the schedule – which is one of the related images that you can download (under Extra materials). By the way, you don’t need to download these are the time – once you've paid for an image you should be able to go back to them at any time in the future. (Note that this is only the case for images you have paid for – if you view an image using a Findmypast subscription you'll only be able to view it again so long as you have a subscription which includes the relevant record.)


© Crown Copyright Image at right reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives



Transcription errors

There will always be transcription errors – even the National Archives don't expect 100% accuracy. However, you can’t report transcription errors unless you purchase the transcript, and most experienced family historians aren't going to do that because the image and the associated documents are more informative.


I suspect this is something we're going to have to live with until the census is included in a subscription.



Householder blunders

In 1911, when we saw the household schedules for the first time, we could see the mistakes that our own ancestors made – no longer could we blame everything on the enumerator! The most common errors related to the questions that were new, and therefore unfamiliar – many of the errors made by our ancestors in 1911 relate to the 'fertility census': the number of years married, the number of children born within the marriage who were still living, and the number who had sadly died (often without ever appearing on a census). My mother's grandfather really got it wrong – he put the statistics against himself rather than his wife (as instructed on the form), and the statistics for the number of children included all of his offspring, including the three born to his first wife. My grandfather was on the same form and his entry was also incorrect – he was a widower, as you can see from this extract:


© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England; used by kind permission of Findmypast (1911 Census)


In this case one of the clerks working on the census deleted the statistics against my grandfather, as you can see, but the entry against my great-grandfather was left unchanged – whilst the enumerator could well have concluded from the information provided that John Wells had been married more than once, he wouldn’t have known that he had included children from both marriages (though 11 children in 13 years of marriage is pushing it a bit!).


By 1921 my grandfather had also remarried and was living with his second wife – my grandmother. Once again he was confused by the new questions, as you can see from the amendments below:



 © Crown Copyright Images above and at right reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England; used by kind permission of Findmypast (1921 Census)


Grandad's entries are in purple, and you can see the amendments made by one of the census clerks in green. As you won't be any more familiar with the new questions than my grandfather I've magnified the instructions in the heading – it’s easy to understand how grandad got it wrong. (Those of my generation might well be reminded of football pools coupons - though as you can see from this article they didn't really come into existence until later in the 1920s.)  


In this case I haven't learned anything extra about my family as a result of grandad misunderstanding the instructions, but that won't always be the case. (Great-grandad filled in his form correctly, by the way.)


By the way, the amendments and annotations in green ink would have been made long after the form had been collected – the clerks who made them would have had no special knowledge about the household – they were simply interpreting the data to make it easier to collate. Remember, censuses weren't taken for the benefit of family historians – they exist primarily to help governments plan and allocate resources, not just at national level, but also at local level.


Arguably we're fortunate that so many British censuses have survived – I know how frustrating it is for people with Irish ancestry that the 19th century censuses of Ireland didn't survive, and in Australia the programme of destruction continued through the 20th century.



Census references

If you've entered relatives from the 1911 England & Wales census on your My Ancestors page you'll be familiar with the RG14 piece numbers and schedule numbers which precisely identify a household. In 1921 it's very similar – the piece numbers are prefixed RG15 (which is the National Archives reference for this census).


If you have a Findmypast subscription you'll be used to taking the census references from the transcript, but nobody wants to pay £2.50 just to get the census references and the piece can usually be found pencilled on the 'cover', one of the additional documents that you can view in return for your £3.50 investment.


However, householders weren't the only ones to make mistakes – as you can see from this example:



© Crown Copyright Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England; used by kind permission of Findmypast


The piece number has been written as RG15/3834, but in fact it should be RG15/8334 – a small difference, perhaps, but one that relocates the enumeration district from Essex to Kent. The good news is that the piece number is also shown as part of the filename when you download the household schedule from Findmypast, for example in this case the filename was GBC_1921_RG15_08334_0581


IMPORTANT: if you search the census by piece number you need to enter a 5-digit number, adding leading zeroes as necessary – thus 8334 should be entered as 08334.


The schedule number is shown in the top right corner of the form, as it usually was in 1911. If the number is hard to decipher you can double-check how it appears in Findmypast's transcription without paying to view the household transcript – simply search for the household using the piece number and whatever you think schedule number might be.


Note: before you ask – there are no plans to add the 1921 Census to the list of censuses that we use at LostCousins. In fact, the LostCousins system works best when everyone uses the same census, which is why I strongly encourage members to enter relatives from 1881. See this FAQ for more information.



Limitations you should be aware of

Even though the age of each person is given in years and months you can only search for them based on their year of birth.


However, the year of birth is calculated using their age as given on the census, ie taking into account the months as well as the years. So, for example, my great uncle Edward - who was recorded as 11 years and 8 months old in June 1921 – will only be found if I search for people born in 1909.


This all sounds perfectly natural, until you remember that in previous censuses only years were shown – for example, in 1911 great uncle Edward was correctly shown as 1 year old, and accordingly he can only be found if I search for people born in 1910.



Stop Press

This is where any major updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error first reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check again before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......



This is a special edition newsletter to mark the release of the new census – the next regular newsletter will be out soon. In the meantime, have fun searching for your relatives in 1921 – it’s a lot safer than many of the other things you might otherwise be doing!


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Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2022 Peter Calver


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