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Findmypast says ‘timelines will be met’ on 1921 census despite covid impact

Findmypast said that the 1921 census is still due to be released in early 2022 despite a three-month shutdown

A Findmypast employee cleans pages from the 1921 census

Family history website Findmypast has said that they will still publish the 1921 England and Wales census in early 2022 despite delays caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

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In a statement, Findmypast said: “Despite Covid restrictions impacting various aspects of the project, Findmypast are still on course to publish the census online in early 2022.

“Provided there are no further interruptions to the current rate of digitisation, Findmypast are confident that original project timelines will be met.”

Under the 1920 Census Act, the 1921 census can’t be publicly released until over 100 years have elapsed.

In March 2019, Findmypast announced that they had been awarded the contract to publish the England and Wales 1921 census records online, with a launch date of January 2022.

Since then, the company has been at work scanning and transcribing the records, but the project suffered a three-month shutdown in 2020 and had resumed working at a “much-reduced staffing capacity”.

Findmypast said: “Findmypast is committed to providing users with the best possible experience and launching in full in early 2022.

“The British brand, along with their partners at The National Archives and ONS [the Office for National Statistics], are still hopeful for a January launch although progress has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The census was conducted on 19 June 1921, having been put back from 24 April because of the disruption caused by a coal miners’ strike.

The records consist of more than 28,000 bound volumes of original householder Returns containing information on the nearly 38 million men, women and children living in England and Wales at the time.

When running at full capacity, more than 30 Findmypast employees worked on the records.

The documents are physically fragile and need to be handled with care.

Findmypast said: “The safety and wellbeing of the project team and the security of the information recorded by the census have been of the utmost importance throughout.

“While some processes have been successfully adapted, the strict measures in place to protect both staff and documents has meant that developing alternative methods or conducting any work off-site has not been possible.”

Publicly available minutes reveal that the Board of The National Archives received a progress report on the 1921 census at a meeting on 23 February 2021.

Although the report said that the project was “moving quickly”, the Board discussed “managing public expectation relating to the potential risk of slippage in the delivery timetable”.

Peter Calver, founder of the family history website LostCousins, said: “The 1921 Census is incredibly important because it’s likely to be the last England and Wales census that many family historians will see in our lifetimes.

“Against this backdrop the possibility of a short delay in the release isn’t a matter of concern to me – rushing it out would risk a higher level of transcription errors, and that’s the last thing we want if it is going to be pay-per-view access, as in the initial release of the 1901 and 1911 censuses, and the 1939 Register.”

The 1921 census records for Scotland are still due to be released on ScotlandsPeople this year.

A spokesperson for the National Records of Scotland said that the release date would be announced in the summer.

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Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine