Mar 272011

Today is UK Census day and to celebrate – and encourage any last minute form filling in – we have asked James Crone, of the UK Borders service (more on which later in this post) to tell us a bit more about the Census and why it creates such a valuable legacy for future genealogical researchers.

Scottish Census Logo

There has been a census held in the UK every 10 years since 1801 with the exception of 1941 during which the country was preoccupied fighting the second world war. The idea is to capture a snapshot in time so Census Day, which is Sunday 27th March 2011 this year, is the day on which this snapshot is based – even if you complete the census before or after this date you should fill in the form as it would be on this day. Historically Census volunteers would visit households on the day to complete the forms but this year households can, for the first time, fill out their forms online (if you haven’t filled out your form yet click the links for the Scottish Census or the England, Wales & Northern Irish Census).

England, Wales and Northern Ireland Census LogoThe tagline of the 2011 UK Census is “help tomorrow take shape”. Readers of the AddressingHistory blog will no doubt be aware of the value of the data to family and local historians since each census captures the names, relationships, and professions of those living at every address in the UK – a hugely rich resource when combined with birth, marriage, and death certificates, yearly Post Office Directories (like those in AddressingHistory), letters, pictures, etc.

Detailed Census data is only released for public use 100 years after it’s collection (for privacy reasons) which makes 2011 both Census year and, in April, the first opportunity for genealogists and historians to see the 1911 Census in detail. However data collected as part of the census has a wide variety of uses as soon as it is collected, these include:

  • An accurate population count helps the government to calculate the grants it allocates to local authorities and health authorities (some examples of how statistics indicate areas of need are highlighted in the recent This is Britain with Andrew Marr programme on the Census).
  • Data collected and analysed about the age, social and economic make up of the population, and on general health and long-term illness, enables the government and local authorities to plan and fund health and social services.
  • Information about housing and its occupants indicates where accommodation is inadequate and helps in planning new housing.
  • Knowing how many people work in different occupations helps government, local authorities and businesses to plan jobs and training policies.
  • Information about travel to and from work and car ownership highlights the pressures on transport systems and how road and public transport could be improved to meet local needs.
  • Information about ethnic groups helps central and local government to plan and fund programmes to meet the needs of  minority groups.
  • Population statistics enable licensed census distributors to create business planning software products.
  • Census statistics help research organizations to decide how, when and where to capture representative samples.
  • Population statistics help businesses to decide where to locate or expand their premises to reflect local demand and the available workforce.

Within the UK researchers and students are able to access the outputs derived from the census through the ESRC Census Programme and Census data and here at EDINA we run the UKBORDERS service which provides access to digital boundaries which represent the geography of the census.

Students and researchers use data from the ESRC Census Programme to support a wide range of academic research. Recently a researcher from Bangor University mapped data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses in order to understand the geographic distribution of welsh speakers in north wales. Using this data the researcher was able to explore where the welsh language was thriving or in decline and understand how this pattern has changed over time.

A great deal of information about the 2011 census is available from dedicated sites run by the Office for National Statistics and the General Register Office for Scotland.

Image from the Census-Man Online Game

Someone to keep an eye out for in the run up to March 27th is Census Man! You can even play a special Census Man Game (it’s not giving too much away to say that completing and posting your form successfully will lead to bonus points!)

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