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Announcing: the 1921 Census

In the most anticipated family history development since the online publication of the 1939 Register, Findmypast has been selected as The National Archives’ commercial partner to make the 1921 Census of England & Wales available online.

The census, which was the first to be conducted following the introduction of the Census Act of 1920, will be published online by Findmypast in January 2022.

Bringing the Census to life

The census, which was the first to be conducted following the introduction of the Census Act of 1920, will be published online by Findmypast in January 2022.

The project will see Findmypast capture digital images and transcribe the records in a way that will enable family historians across the globe to conduct meaningful searches of these important records when they are opened for the very first time.

1921 Census

About the 1921 Census

Taken on 19th June 1921, the census consists of more than 28,000 bound volumes of original household returns containing detailed information on close to 38 million individuals.

It provides greater detail than any previous census as, in addition to the questions asked in 1911, the 1921 returns also asked householders to reveal their place of employment, the industry they worked in and the materials they worked with as well as their employer’s name.

1921 Census
1921 Census
1921 Census
1921 Census

The 1921 Census also included detailed questions on education, and was the first in which individual householders could submit separate confidential returns.

Those aged 15 and older were required to provide information about their marital status, including if divorced, while for those under 15 the census recorded whether both parents were alive or if either or both had died.

Frequently asked questions

How big is the 1921 census?

The 1921 census occupies 1.6 linear kilometres of shelving, holding details of just under 38 million people living in England & Wales in June 1921. The increase in population since 1911 was approximately 1.8 million, showing the impact of the First World War as this was only half the increase from 1901 to 1911, and proportionally the lowest increase recorded since the first census in 1801.

It comprises two sets of records:

Approximately 8.5 million householder questionnaires – or schedules (RG 15) held in 28,152 volumes, each comprising about 300 schedules. Each schedule is completed by each householder, and is in the householder’s writing (some appear to have been completed by other members of the family).
1,992 volumes of Plans of Division (RG 114).Each Plan of Division is a standard 32 page booklet in which local registrars recorded how their registration subdistrict would be divided up into enumeration districts for the census. In urban areas they list which streets are in which enumeration districts, and even which particular range of house numbers from a street fall into a given enumeration district. In rural areas it will indicate which hamlets and outlying farms were included in a particular enumeration district. Enumeration districts were designed so as possible such that a single enumerator could visit all the properties on census day to collect the schedules after completion.

The newly digitised version of the census will:

Enable people to easily search the census records online from the comfort of their own home
take up 200 terabytes of computer storage using our preferred image format of JPEG2000, to store these images as TIFF files would take around 1.4 petabytes of storage.
constitute more than 20 million colour images - a 25 per cent increase on the 1911 census.
What information does it contain?

The 1921 census is a household census taken in June 1921, and paints a picture of the UK population nearly one hundred years ago. It holds information on every household, vessel, institution and overseas residencies that were part of England and Wales in 1921, plus the Isle of Man and Channel Islands .Also included are merchant ships in the waters of England and Wales, all ships of the Royal Navy and army and (for the first time) RAF units stationed overseas. This will include units on occupation duties following the First World War, or based in territories newly under British administration as a result of the war, such as Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).

A full entry on a standard household schedule will contain:

full address of the property
names of persons in each household
relationship to head of household
age (this was now required as years and completed months, rather than just years as in previous censuses)
“marriage or orphanhood”
For those aged 15 and over this field recorded if you were single, married, or widowed, and for the first time D was to be recorded for those whose marriage had been dissolved by divorce
For those under 15 this recorded if both parents were alive, father dead, mother dead or both dead.
This field will again show the impact of the First World War with a greater proportion of widows recorded than in 1911, and 730,000 children recorded with “Father dead” versus 260,000 with “Mother dead”.
place of birth and nationality for those born outside the UK
occupation and employment
if in whole or part-time education
principally for recording those at school or university, but could also include adults taking evening classes
For those employed, name and type of employer, otherwise recording “employer”, or “own account”. Those out of work are instructed to give their last employee and add “out of work”
Place of Work - employer’s address (except for those in private employment such as domestic service
Number of children or stepchildren under the age of 16
To be filled in by married men, widowers and widows, a total number followed by a cross in a box for each age that was applicable to a child or stepchild.

Other types of schedule for institutions/prisons, merchant vessels, or the armed forces add some additional questions about function within the institution, and rank or trade rather than occupation for the armed forces. Schedules used in Wales and the Isle of Man include an additional language question, asking if each person spoke Welsh (or Manx), English, or Both, while the armed forces schedule asks additionally if the person can speak Welsh or Gaelic (in addition to English).

How does it differ from other censuses?
The 1921 census is the most comprehensive census to be opened to the public since records began in 1801.
For the first time “divorced” was included as a marital status. Other additional information includes the address of each person’s place of work was recorded This means that for the first time you will often be able to determine the colleagues of your relatives for the first time. This was the first census since the creation of the Royal Air Force and their overseas stations were included in this census along with army bases and ships of the Royal Navy.
For the first time questions were removed from the census, unlike 1911 there was no question about the length of the present marriage or the total number of children born to a marriage, or total children still living, only numbers of children or stepchildren under 16 were requested.
It was the first decennial census to be conducted under the Census Act 1920. The original act can be viewed here.
When will the 1921 census be opened?

January 2022 in line with government policy and relevant legislation. For more information please see here.

What about people who are still alive?

The accepted assumption of 100 years for life means that records can be opened 100 years and 1 day from the date of birth of the individual. In February 2004 the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on National Records and Archives considered and accepted a proposal for the use of a standard closure period, and that a lifetime of 100 years should be assumed. Living people aged more than 100 who wish their records to be taken down can make a request for this to be done.

Are you releasing the whole census in one go?

Yes, the 1921 census will be published online in full in January 2022.

Pricing & Cost

How much will it cost to access the records online?

The price of accessing record images and transcripts will be announced nearer to the date of release.

Will The National Archives be making any profit out of this service?

The National Archives will receive a royalty from the digitisation partner.

Is there any way I can view the images for free?

Anyone will be able to view the images of the 1921 census for free online at The National Archives. The original census document will not be available in the reading rooms and there are no plans to produce microfiche. Searching the 1921 Census will be free on Findmypast but viewing an images or transcriptions will not.

Questions about commercial partnership

How was a service provider be selected for this project?

The procurement was conducted in accordance with the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. It comprised a rigorous tendering process, in which the opportunity to participate was published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) and on the Contracts Finder website.

Will the 1921 Census effectively belong to the service provider?

Any transcription created by the service provider will be their IP but the census and the archival-quality images remain the property of The National Archives, who through this project now own a digital surrogate of this important national resource.

Why was this not a publicly funded project?

The cost of creating digital images from the paper originals, transcribing those records to create the necessary information to make them useful, and building and hosting the infrastructure to present the images and data to the general public is beyond the resources of The National Archives.

Questions about future censuses

The next census to be released will be the 1951 census, due for release in January 2052. The 1931 census was taken in April 1931 but was completely destroyed in a fire in 1942 at the Office of Works. There was no England and Wales census in 1941 due to the Second World War.