How to Make the Most of the 1921 Census

Hooray! The England and Wales 1921 census was released earlier this week through FindMyPast! There’s a huge buzz of excitement across social media as people finally break down the brick walls that have held fast for the last however many years of research. This is the second set of census records I have waited for in my 12 years of researching. We’re all at different stages in our family history journey and whether you’ve been searching for a month, a year, 10 years, 30 years, it’s always exciting to be able to finally solve that mystery!

Mixed in with the positive buzz, there has been a lot of negativity too about the costs of accessing the newly released records. It certainly can be expensive if you buy records that you THINK are your family but perhaps were people with the same name in the same area. Believe me, I have been stung a few times over the years paying for a record that wasn’t my immediate family. If I lucked out, they’d be an extended family member, if not, then I’d completely missed the mark. It happens.

Here are some ideas on how to reduce your costs.

Research extensively!

  • Are you 100% sure you have the right person in the index? If not, maybe sit them to one side until you have other clues that might break that cost brick wall.
  • Look for unusual first names within the family who you think will be within that family unit on the census. John Smith is going to bring up 1,000s of results, but Matilda Smith might help to narrow things down.
  • Check you have the correct area. It might be worth looking through directories or electoral rolls to narrow things down.
  • Were there births of children around this time? Do you have the locations of the births that help in narrowing down the area for your family?
  • Use wildcards! If you you are struggling to find your ancestor on the 1921 census, perhaps the name has been transcribed incorrectly. Use wildcards where possible. My McNeil family are an interesting bunch recorded as McNeil, McNeill, MacNeil, MacNeil, McNiel, McNiell, Neil, Neill etc. Check that “tt” hasn’t been transcribed as “ll”. We may know what our families names are, but for those transcribing, they are recording what they see (if you’ve never transcribed records before, it’s something worth trying for yourself through the likes of FindAGrave or FamilySearch to see just how tricky it can be).
  • If you have subscriptions to the different genealogy websites, even the free websites or Google searches, leave no stone or leaf unturned in terms of narrowing down your search. Remember, the index of the 1921 census is free to search, it’s just the actual transcriptions or original images (I’d personally recommend the original images) that will cost you credits. Use the indexes with all your knowledge and note down your possible John Smiths/Smyths etc and then rule out the ones that you know are incorrect.

My rule is that if I’m in doubt of whether I have the correct John Smith, I will leave that branch to focus on another. Sometimes fresh eyes or even investing the help of other friends who share your interest can help you to see the wood from the trees.

I hope this helps you to narrow down the number of possibilities and that you manage to break down some brick walls! Best of luck in your research.

Here is a video of the often tricky digitisation process carried out to bring us this new record set.

[If you have any other research tips, do feel free to leave them in the comments.]