In 2019 Findmypast was awarded the contract to publish the census, which cannot be made publicly accessible for 100 years owing to privacy restrictions.
In partnership with The National Archives, Findmypast has worked to digitise and transcribe the records, which consist of more than 30,000 bound volumes of original documents stored on 1.6 linear kilometres of shelving and holding the records of 38 million people.
Mary McKee, Head of Content Publishing Operations at Findmypast, said: “We are so excited to be able to reveal the incredible hard work that our team of expert conservators and technicians have put into preserving this crucial part of our nation’s history.
“Over the course of the restoration and digitisation process, we have discovered thousands of extraordinary stories from the lives of seemingly ordinary people as well as an abundance of famous figures who helped shaped the world we now live in.”
On its website, Findmypast said the census would be available to view at a cost of £2.50 for every record transcript and £3.50 for every individual image, with a 10% discount for Findmypast’s Pro subscribers.
Conducted on 19 June 1921, the 1921 census is a complete record of every individual living in England and Wales.
It is particularly valuable to family historians because the results of the 1931 census were destroyed in a fire in 1942 and the 1941 census was never taken owing to the Second World War, making the 1921 census the only record of our ancestors for 30 years.
The 1921 census for Scotland will be published by ScotlandsPeople in the latter half of 2022.
The 1921 records also have new details that weren’t available on previous census records, including asking respondents for the name and address of their employer and giving the option to enter their marital status as ‘Divorced’.
Tamsin Todd, CEO of Findmypast, said: “Taken between two world wars, following a global flu pandemic, during a period of economic turmoil and migration from the UK, and with social change at home as women won the right to vote, the 1921 census documents a moment in time that will resonate with people living today.”
The process of digitising the records has been painstaking for Findmypast and was hit by a three-month shutdown in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Every page of the fragile physical documents had to be handled by a trained conservation technician who was responsible for a variety of delicate tasks including removing any objects that could damage the paper, correcting folds covering the text, teasing apart pages that had become stuck together, restoring tears and checking for and repairing other damage.
Once every page was examined, cleaned and repaired if required, Findmypast’s scanning team created an image of every page as well as any attachments and the front and back covers of each volume. Each image was then quality checked before being stored on a secure server.
Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine