The 2011 Census - family history in the making

The 2011 CensusMy household questionnaire for the 2011 England and Wales Census arrived this week and after thumbing through it I decided to put down a few of my thoughts, from a genealogical point of view that is.

This is your chance to be part of history. Many family historians appreciate the invaluable information contained within the 19th and early 20th century censuses, which are currently available to them. Although these records may contain only basic information they do help us to locate our ancestors and glimpse at their lifestyles via their addresses and occupations.

Turning to the new 2011 census, whilst it does supply a great deal more detail for the future genealogist, I was surprised and dismayed to find that middle names are to be omitted, although full dates of birth are required. Again, a specific place of birth is not requested, only the country. I began to worry for our descendants that they'll have a difficult time tracking down ancestors with common names who were born in England or Wales, etc.

Of course, by then, who knows what other sources will become available to support the particulars they find on us in the census? For instance, might they have access to old household bills in the same way that we can view old telephone and street directories now, or will this type of material still be viewed as confidential in 100 years or so?

What about our personal musings on Twitter, Facebook and the like? And of course, our websites and blogs? The Internet Archive is busy recording much of what it finds online by means of its 'Wayback Machine'. The 'Machine' has already captured my own family history site twice. Imagine how our descendants might feel if they search for their ancestors, to find all our efforts pop up on their screens (assuming screens are still in use at that stage) after we, and our websites, are long gone!

In view of this, why not publish your own reflections as you complete your census forms and maybe one day your future relatives might search for and discover this personal account to compliment your household schedule. You could post to your blog or to your favourite social networking site or even ask a friend to put your thoughts on their pages if you don't have access to these facilities.

We have a choice of whether to complete the 2011 census online or post back our paper questionnaires. In trying to decide which method to choose I endeavoured to find out what would become of our paper questionnaires. Apparently, they are to be destroyed after they have been scanned. However, images of the actual questionnaires are to be securely stored on microfilm and kept confidential for the usual 100 years. Therefore, if you like the idea of your descendants seeing your own hand (albeit printed) and signature, then you might want to use the old-fashioned method and put pen to paper.

You could copy or scan your questionnaire before sending it back and keep it in your family archive. Then perhaps some of those who come after you won't have to wait 100 years to discover that you have gas central heating!

Category: Making Memories

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Good points, Annie. I've just helped my 91 year old mother complete the census online. Although the form only asks for one first name I typed in all three of her first names and they were accepted. I suggest everyone does that, for the sake of future genealogists. If you are completing the written form, which will be scanned and preserved, I would also write in your place of birth next to the date of birth box. There is nothing to stop you giving extra information!
I've now blogged my own thoughts at:, with a link back to this post of yours.
some very goods points are made in your article. This might sound as though I am pushing my website, but my idea behind the key witness journal from the site is exactly the type of missing area's to ones life that could be immortalized by the individual; giving a much more in depth life story; insight to the thoughts, humour, political rants ect; This could also open another avenue for their families to trace back and discover the voice behind the photogragh they have in their hands,

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