How Findmypast is helping us provide access to the 1921 Census

The announcement that the 1921 Census will be available online from next January will undoubtedly cause great excitement among researchers around the world. We spoke to Stephen Rigden, Records Development Manager for our partners at Findmypast, to find out about this huge project to publish the census online.

This blog looks at the census itself and how Findmypast approached the digitisation of it; in our other blog we delve into the details of the essential work that has gone into conserving the census throughout the project – click here to read it.


The 1921 Census of England and Wales will be available to explore online at Findmypast from 6 January 2022. But it won’t magically appear on Findmypast’s website overnight – digitising this precious resource has been three long, hard years in the making.

Imagine the summer of 1921. Before census night on 19 June, enumerators distributed blank census forms to be completed by each household in the country. They then collected them, filled in by householders, the following week.

A blank census form. A wide piece of paper with lots of small text.
A blank census form

As with the 1911 Census, it is these original householder returns from 1921 that have been kept and which survive today. The enumerators checked and processed the schedules, and then passed them on to the registrar of their district who, in turn, packaged them up for the Census Office in London.

The schedules were bound into hardback volumes. Census Office clerical staff went through every census return, annotating them with occupational codes and sometimes making revisions in their distinctive green ink.

A taskforce of nimble-fingered young women, mostly aged between 15 and 17 and known as ‘punchers’, extracted information about each person on each census return on to tabulation punch cards. The dextrous punch card girls also undertook basic first aid on damaged schedules, re-attaching detached sections.

A photograph of a keypunch machine.
A keypunch machine

Comptometer operators then fed the punch cards into sorting and counting machines, which digested them and spat out the raw data that later became the 1921 Census we know today.

And then what? The 1921 Census was closed by law (under the Census Act of 1920) for 100 years. Some parts of it were in fact used internally by the Census Office itself in the late 1920s to prepare for the 1931 Census (sadly now lost following a fire), and limited access was granted to academics on rare occasions.

Other than that, the catalogued and bound census returns sat in government department storage, occasionally moving from one place of storage to another. For a while they were held at Somerset House on the Strand; later, in the basement of Audit House in London; and eventually at Christchurch in Dorset.

Bringing the 1921 Census back to life

The books were placed in archive boxes and transferred to a secure government location for digitisation. There, under the watchful eyes and careful guidance of the Office for National Statistics and The National Archives, Findmypast set about the immense task of bringing the 1921 Census to the public.

Digitisation is the umbrella term we use for imaging and indexing a record set to make it publishable in fully searchable form online. For the 1921 Census, though, there was an additional process which preceded the imaging and indexing – conservation.

Findmypast set up a dedicated studio for the entire process at the Office for National Statistics in Titchfield, Hampshire, and designed a workflow to optimise the available space, making sure to accommodate conservation team members as comfortably as possible, while also making sure the archive materials could be tracked as they moved through the stages of conservation.

A woman stands working at a scanner digitising a census form.
At work in the digitisation studio

They then carried out an audit to make sure that all the boxes they were expecting were in the studio, and that all the volumes were in the right boxes. They needed to ensure that nothing in scope was missing, and nothing out of scope was present.

To give you an idea what this entailed, in just the main record series containing the census schedules, there were a little under 14,000 boxes. Each one of those boxes had to be located on its shelf, barcode-scanned, opened, its contents checked and then re-shelved. 28,162 pieces were found to be present and correct (including one or two which had been thought missing). The specialist team mapped the stacks so they could confidently go straight to the one they wanted.

Once all this was completed, Findmypast’s team could get to work on all things conservation and getting the census ready for you to explore.

Find out all about the meticulous conservation work that went into preparing the census in our other blog.

67 comments

  1. Peter Dixon says:

    How dare you sell the census to a private company. This is a public record paid for by taxpayers.

    1. Sarah Leggett says:

      This eagerly anticipated release is the culmination of almost three years of highly skilled work to digitise the 1921 Census for online publication.

      Conserving, digitising, transcribing and building an experience that enables meaningful, accurate searches of these important records has required significant investment from Findmypast. 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.

      The online search functionality built by the Findmypast team is also better than ever before. The cost of creating digital images from the paper originals, transcribing those records, and building the infrastructure to present the images and data to the general public is beyond our resources. We therefore offer opportunities for private businesses – such as Findmypast – to work with us in widening access to the records we hold, by digitising them and offering online access.

  2. Elaine Everest says:

    Comptometer operators did not feed punch card machines. These are two different professions and two different skills. A comptometer is an early day calculation machine, which meant the operators had to have passed exams and be highly skilled – and know their arithmetic.
    A punchcard operator had to be a skilled typist.
    I was one of the last comptometer operators to be trained way back in 1970/71

  3. Mrs Anne Cleave says:

    One can only say, ‘thank goodness for dedicated, well-trained staff and technology’. The task of preparing the 1921 Census for publication was a mammoth one and every single person involved deserves a huge vote of thanks – mine is top of the list. Thank you to each and everyone of you.

  4. Ms J James says:

    Hi, did any of the Caribbean islands carry out a census day?

  5. Ron Platt says:

    Will those Persons who do not subscribe to Findmypast be excluded from searching, viewing, and downloading copies of the 1921 Census?

    1. Matthew de Ville (Admin) says:

      Just to clarify:

      Anyone will be able to view the Census free of charge in digital format on site at The National Archives upon release on 6 January 2022. You will only be able to view digital copies of the records, i.e. not the originals.

      Searching is free on Findmypast, but viewing will incur a pay-per-view cost (for the reasons they describe in their FAQs). But you don’t need to be a subscriber to Findmypast.

  6. Dr J K Ashford says:

    Accessing the 1921 census via Findmypast will be incredibly expensive. At £3.50 for a register copy and £2.50 for a transcription (which may well be wrong based on my experience of the 1939 Register at FMP) I will probably not be making much use of it – even though I am a FMP member and get a small discount. It looks as if the National Archives have just written FMP a blank cheque. I am particularly galled at the charges seeing as how I have freely spend many weeks and months in the past helping transcribe earlier census and Parish records for the free use of people – including FMP who now sell access to this information.

  7. EIRA HOPKINS says:

    I am really looking forward to the release of this Census as it may clear up some questions that I need answers to.

  8. Sonia Bennett Murray says:

    Thank you for all your hard work in making the 1921 census available! Your mention of finding pieces thought to be missing raises a question. Has the National Archives or Find my Past ever checked the 1891 census of London for missing pieces?

  9. Sarah Leggett says:

    What a let down.
    We all wait for the 1921 census and then the bombshell is dropped that everyone will need to pay to see the most important piece of family search history produced.
    Shame on you Findmypast.
    A shocking way to treat you loyal customers.

    1. Matthew de Ville (Admin) says:

      This eagerly anticipated release is the culmination of almost three years of highly skilled work to digitise the 1921 Census for online publication.

      Conserving, digitising, transcribing and building an experience that enables meaningful, accurate searches of these important records has required significant investment from Findmypast. 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.

      The online search functionality built by the Findmypast team is also better than ever before. The cost of creating digital images from the paper originals, transcribing those records, and building the infrastructure to present the images and data to the general public is beyond our resources.

  10. Raymond A Rouse says:

    At the age of 77 and in somewhat failing health this really is exceelent news and on a very personal ——- and —- pessimistic note.
    ,I thought I would not get the opportunity to find out mmore about our Paternal grandmother and her three children, one being our Father
    To date we have established, through GRO official Birth Certificates, that our Father indeed had two sisters both of whom were unknown to us,either formally or otherwise and certainly never “ hinted “ at by our Father.
    Hopefully, modern technology will forward further exciting trails to follow.
    Kindest regards.
    Raymond A Rouse. ( Nottinghamshire)

  11. David Dukes says:

    What an immense task!! Congratulations to all involved. When I started to work we still had comptometer operators dealing with the wages of thousands of miners. They were all young ladies in one large office and I was very shy when I had to enter their domain!
    I have looked forward to this publication and I must say however that the news of the 1931 census I find particularly distressing, not that I am likely to be around on the publication date. It is my year of birth. But my children, grandchildren or great grandchildren may have taken an interest!

    Best wishes to all and congratulations again.

  12. Trevor Bow says:

    That’s such a tragedy that the I93I census was lost in a fire. Where and when did this happen ? Was there nothing left at all of the records ?

  13. Julia Mitchell says:

    I am afraid I will not be able to afford the cost of looking on findmypast. By the time anyone else has access and looking at the images comes within an annual subscription this public record resource will be beyond my means. Will it be possible to see the images for free at the National Archives?

    1. Matthew de Ville (Admin) says:

      Hi Julia. You will be able to see digital copies of the Census for free on site at The National Archives – but you won’t be able to see the original records. For Findmypast, you won’t need to have a subscription. Searching the records will be free of charge, but there will be a fee for view copies or transcripts, i.e. it’ll be on a pay-per-view basis.

  14. Dave Massey says:

    This is truly extraordinary if it happened, It would be helpful to know what, if anything, survived. At that time there was mass unemployment off the back of the Great Depression. The data in the Census would have been damning.

  15. Graham Appleyard says:

    I am surprised that Find My Past will be charging a fee to look at each of the records on top of the fee to join the site. Up to £3.50 to look at one record.
    As you are the National Archives is it a new policy to charge for looking at records that are housed at the site using an indirect method to do so?
    It seems to me that Find My Past members are going to be subsidising work that the National Archives should have done itself.
    Was there any discussion with any others about the sole use, or was it a shady deal?

  16. Jennifer Foster says:

    I am very distressed to learn there is to be an additional charge to view each record in the 1921 Census. I was so looking forward to learning about the early lives of family members I knew.

    1. Sarah Leggett says:

      This eagerly anticipated release is the culmination of almost three years of highly skilled work to digitise the 1921 Census for online publication.

      Conserving, digitising, transcribing and building an experience that enables meaningful, accurate searches of these important records has required significant investment from Findmypast. 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.

      The online search functionality built by the Findmypast team is also better than ever before. The cost of creating digital images from the paper originals, transcribing those records, and building the infrastructure to present the images and data to the general public is beyond our resources.

  17. Wendy James says:

    The 1911 census was handled the same way, but if one waited a while, it was available as it is today, I expect the same with the 1921 census. I expect we will be able to access the 1921 census with just a subscription in time. I will have patience and wait.

  18. Alan Simpson says:

    All the previous censuses are available on Ancestry. When will the 1921 census also be available there (not just on Find my Past)?

    1. Matthew de Ville (Admin) says:

      Findmypast will be the only genealogy website to offer access to the 1921 Census of England and Wales. We are unable to disclose when other companies may be able to provide access to the census at this time.

      The 1921 Census of England and Wales will be free to view in digital format at The National Archives in Kew.

  19. Mark VanBuren says:

    I understood that anyone will be able to view the digital images of the 1921 Census of England and Wales for free on the premises at The National Archives at Kew upon release on 6 January 2022.

    1. Matthew de Ville (Admin) says:

      That is correct – digital images will be available to view on site at Kew for free.

  20. James Morgan says:

    It’s criminal that Find My Past are charging so much on top of a subscription for data that belongs to the people of the UK. We should be paying for the digitisation via taxes and the data should be free to access.

  21. ANNE GREEN says:

    I am equally horrified that for each record we will be charged a fee. Subscription to the sit should be enough.

  22. Bob Avery says:

    Somewhat like Graham Appleyard, comment The 28th Oct 2021, I was taken aback at the charges per page for the 1921 census for hard copy and digital copy at £3.50 and £2.50 respectively. After worrying about the meltdown that my back account may suffer I woke up to the fact that someone has to pay for the service so why not the customer! A lot of work, a lot of time and effort, all of which has to be paid for and why should folks who have no interest in family history research et al have to subsidise those of us who do. My only concern is, do I have to also subscribe to Find My Past to access the documents or are FMP setting up a separate accessible service where all I get is what I pay for. I am aware that I could visit Kew and read the documents for free but that would be a slight inconvenience travelling from Wales every five minutes just to browse. It seems that FMP have created an excellent service but at what cost to myself is yet to assessed!

    1. Matthew de Ville (Admin) says:

      Just to confirm, you won’t need to be a subscriber to Findmypast to view digital copies of the records. While searching on Findmypast will be free, viewing will be on a pay-per-view basis.

  23. Michael Leslie says:

    Totally agree with Graham Appleyard’s comments. Such important national records ought to be freely available to the public in the same way that we have access to most national museums and art galleries. Hiding such historic national records behind a private paywall is unprincipled.

  24. Michael Hume says:

    What will the money raised by charging the £3.50 for each record be used for? Surely this information held in the 1921 Census records is public information in the true sense of the word, and should be made freely available to the public with any associated costs being borne by findmypast or any other genealogy organisation that may be willing to be involved. We understood that Census information should be freely available after 100 years under the “Freedom of information” Act.

    1. Sarah Leggett says:

      This eagerly anticipated release is the culmination of almost three years of highly skilled work to digitise the 1921 Census for online publication.

      Conserving, digitising, transcribing and building an experience that enables meaningful, accurate searches of these important records has required significant investment from Findmypast. 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.

      The online search functionality built by the Findmypast team is also better than ever before. The cost of creating digital images from the paper originals, transcribing those records, and building the infrastructure to present the images and data to the general public is beyond our resources. We therefore offer opportunities for private businesses – such as Findmypast – to work with us in widening access to the records we hold, by digitising them and offering online access.

      The digitisation of the 1921 Census is the largest project ever completed by The National Archives and Findmypast, consisting of more than 30,000 bound volumes of original documents stored on 1.6 linear kilometres of shelving. Once launched, it will be searchable at a touch of a button from your home.

  25. JM says:

    I also feel agrieved that as a subscriber to FMP I am expected to pay additional extortionate fees to view the 1921 census. FMP say that the census will be freely available at The National Archives – excellent if you happen to be within travelling distance somewhat discriminatory to those people that live in the rest of the UK. I thought this was The National Archives, not the London Archives.

  26. Bill Beer says:

    Previous census returns have been available free of charge to researchers in local libraries and archives. Will there be similar access to this census? It seems that online access through Find My Past could prove prohibitively expensive if searching multiple family names.

    1. Matthew de Ville (Admin) says:

      Initially access will only be via Findmypast and on site at The National Archives in Kew. I’m afraid we’re unable to disclose at the moment when other companies may be able to provide access to the census.

  27. Sarah says:

    whilst I appreciate the complexity of the work involved the charge for copies seems to be out ofproportion and will certainly discourage people from requesting copies or maybe this is NA intention?

  28. Evol Laing says:

    Can we not have a general increase in Subscription Fees as it would cost me so much to have to pay over $3 each time I searched records? Thus using these records would be prohibitive

  29. Adrian Brockett says:

    Has there been an answer to the two previous messages (by Graham Appleyard and Bill Beer)? Will the 1921 census be freely available for researchers at TNA in Kew?

  30. Robert Dixon says:

    The 1911 Census was launched on a dedicated site & I get the impression the 1921 Census will be the same. So you’ll need to pay to see the records but you won’t need a FindMyPast subscription for that. If that’s correct and the same pattern is followed then it will appear on FindMyPast (& other sites) at a much later time. And if my memory is correct, the 1911 Census was launched in bits and pieces over a period of time and based on geographical returns, this to lighten the initial server loading.

  31. Matthew Woollard says:

    The statement that the “The 1921 Census was closed by law (under the Census Act of 1920) for 100 years” is misleading. The 100 years closure provision was made in the Lord Chancellor’s Instrument No. 12 of 20 June 1966 under Public Records Act 1958.

  32. robertpaulson says:

    @ adrian brockett

    Yes, its free at kew to access the digital records.

  33. Kaye Bickerdike says:

    Mysteriously, still no response to the repeated question of cost, despite the National Archive’s ‘open archive’ policy, available to all.

  34. Frances Hoffman says:

    Thrilled beyond words that the 1921 census will become available to researchers. However, living in Canada, as I do, Kew is out of the question. Like many, I also pay a significant annual fee to belong to Findmypast. Regardless, I shall have no option but to pay per view. Exceedingly disappointing!

  35. Neil Blackie says:

    I am very disappointed and somewhat surprised that The National Archives has allowed Findmypast to control access to the 1921 census in such a way. I understand that there is a cost in conserving, digitising and transcribing the records however there are still several questions that I would like answered.
    – Findmypast will charge £2.50 to view each transcribed record, and £3.50 to view each original record. Only the transcribed records will be available to view for free at Kew, not the original records.
    o Why are the transcribed records cheaper to access when there is more work involved in producing the transcribed versions?

    o Why have The National Archives agreed to restrict access to the original records, thereby forcing the viewing of these public records via payment to a private company only?
     (It should be noted that there are numerous transcription errors on the previous census records, so the only way to be certain of the details is to view the originals.)

    o Considering the charges that are being levied by Findmypast, has there been an independent audit of their pricing model for viewing these public documents?
    I would appreciate a considered response to these questions.

  36. Maureen Knight says:

    The charge to view might not be acceptable to some and it is more than I thought it would be but think about how many people were employed and the total hours they worked. I couldn’t even estimate.

  37. Feeling Fleeced says:

    Why is access to be restricted to one company and why are we to be charged for access to something already paid for by the tax payer?

  38. Selling the past says:

    I get it now – its a bit like a turnpike you have have to pay to access
    I love the historic approach to the release of this material!
    well done

  39. Neil Blackie says:

    It is now over one month since I posted my questions above, so I assume whoever administrates this blog has chosen not to find answers.
    I appreciate there are significant costs in digitising and transcribing the records that Findmypast needs to recover, but over 18 million records at £3:50 per view is a significant potential revenue.
    I also note that Findmypast has employed an independent PR firm to help promote the launch of the 1921 census. I’m not sure why this was necessary, but I guess the charges are also needed to recover the cost of this.
    It would also be interesting to know if any payments were made directly between The National Archives and Findmypast with regards to the 1921 census.

  40. Steven Tom says:

    I like many others (Neil Blackie etc…) are distressed at the costs of viewing records. It should be covered by the standard subscription or for an additional amount for the initial period – perhaps 1-2-3 years. FMP has a fantastic opportunity to increase its revenue through new subscribers to cover the costs but this pay to view model “stinks”. What if I view the transcription – then want to view the original – would that be £6.00??

    As for it being free at Kew……thanks but how can that work when you live hours from London. Heard of levelling up?

    The eager anticipation has given way to disappointment…..its not how it should be

  41. Dawn Divilly says:

    It’s hugely disappointing and frustrating that it’s charge per view. With common names, it’s not easy to figure out if one is buying the correct record, as I’ve just learned to my cost…..

  42. Pat Hartigan says:

    Neil, from what I’ve been able to glean from the website ted.europa.eu the contract to digitise and preserve the 1921 census was put out to tender with a suggested cost of £20m. Two companies applied, with Find My Past winning the contract with a tender of £10.5m. According to the FAQ on the FMP website, royalties are paid to the National Archives. The NA haven’t confirmed when the pay wall period will end due to commercial issues. Subsequently, it’s been confirmed that free online digital access will be available to patrons while visiting the Archives at Kew and also at Manchester and Aberystwyth libraries.

  43. Margaret Daking says:

    I so admired the work of those dedicated people at the National Archives and the enormous task of conservation of the documents. As a ‘Pro’ subscriber to Findmypast.com, at £159.99, I was very pleased to know that I had immediate access to the 1921 census. Then I was forrified to learn that I had to pay in addition to view the entries, even with a 10% discount. On paying for my first 1921 census transcription copy at £2.25 (incl. of discount) I found two errors, and on an additional purchase of £3.15 (incl of discount) I bought the original page image and the errors were apparent. I was not able to view the book’s cover, first or last page of the document in the blurred film strip without a further purchase! I despair. I understood that the transcription was carried out in India. Possibly this may have been one reason for the error as Lowca is in Cumbria not ‘Lover’! The company my maternal grandfather entered on the document as his employer was ‘Harrington Coke Ovens Ltd. The employer had been transcribed as Harrington Cottle Overrs Limited. I believe future purchasing an image is of greater value for my own interpretation of the record entry. Purchasing a transcription copy may lead to a frustrating and fruitless additional cost. Having looked forward to the 6th January 2022 with keen anticipation I feel deflated and hesitate at further expense for a poor outcome.

  44. Kevin Billington says:

    I’m So disappointed, I have an annual subscription with Ancestry ( I’m in Australia ), I’ve seen a recurring Reply about the 28000 Vol & 3 years to do, could’ve been a year & a half if it was split and then brought together by Ancestry & FMP, and I’ve got buckleys of getting to Kew anytime soon + I’m already paying the GRO for copies of certificates, You say you don’t need a subscription on FMP to view the census but they want you to sign up before they’ll show anything which is annoying as i have no intension of signing up as I’ve done as much signing up as i can handle ( War Records in my Family ).
    What a Let Down.

  45. Debra Shaw says:

    Has the whole of the 1921 census been transcribed as I have searched whole families within my tree and I cannot find them.

    Those that I have found have incorrect surnames Conmy was found as Conney. Albert Atkinson found as Herbert Atkinson ( I know I have correct family as children and wife are correct).

    Without paying to see the original doc I cant say for certain if it is a transcript error.

  46. Jane Sinclair says:

    I used the FMP site yesterday to view the 1921 Census. I found the digital copy and paid £2.50 to download it. On reading through the digiital copy I was surprised with the surnames of female members of my family which were redorded in their maiden names (1 of which I knew was married by 1921). I then had to fork out an additional £3.50 to download the original record. The original record recorded the surnames of the female family members with their married surnames! If the Kew records are only showing the digital records, on my (limited) experience I’m not sure you can rely on the information! Hugely disappointed with the FMP digital experience. It’s cumbersome and cluttered. It’s very expensive to use and the digital record cannot (in my opinion) be relied upon. I shall be waiting patiently for the 1921 Census to become available on other sites.

  47. Simon Ash says:

    It is very disappointing that the digital transcriptions are so full of errors. Not one of my grandparents or great grandparents records are error-free, and some have been impossible to trace by name as the surnames are so garbled. I was able to trace one family as they were luckily in the same house as 1911.
    As for my own street of 100 houses, it does not exist, despite being well recorded in 1911.
    The 1911 records were generally reliable, but these are just about unusable.

  48. Maureen Spinks says:

    Yesterday I spent a fruitful day at the National Archives downloading nearly 1000 images from the 1921 census. I had gone on behalf of our local history society (it being deemed cheaper to pay my expenses for a day out in London, rather than paying £3.15 for each household) and, in a day, was able to access every single household in the villages which are of interest to us. I had done some useful research beforehand on the Address Search, so I knew how many households I was expecting and, after I had started at the first household, it was just a case of clicking on the arrow to go on to the next household. I recommend always going immediately to the original image, rather than to the transcription as I have come across a number of errors. The “Send Transfer” function worked well and today I have easily been able to access all the files which I downloaded yesterday. I had been concerned that there might be queues to access the computers at the National Archives and that I might have a wasted journey, but in fact there was a room full of computers and I think that at, whatever time of day you visited, you would probably be able to get on a computer. Another alternative is to take your own device and access the National Archives’ free wifi. Our team of transcribers in the village is now working on the census returns so that, within a month or two, we will have our own transcriptions available on our website.

  49. William D Taylor says:

    Awarding the licence to FindMyPast to sell a publicly funded record for commercial gain is an absolute, unmitigated disaster. We have suffered austerity for 11 years and our public services have been starved of money, forcing local authorities to cut essential services and/or charge very high fees. This is also true of County Libraries as well as Record Offices and Archives. Ordinary people on low incomes and pensioners are being denied the opportunity to study and learn. A university education now leaves students in debt for evermore and free market Tory ideology where the state plays a minimal role in looking after its citizens is a disaster. The rich get filthy rich and the poor are left to rely on food banks and are looked upon as weak and feckless.
    FindMyPast’s micro-charging policy can only result from a desire to cash-in. The price to download one household on the 1921 Census is way too high at £3.50. Even a transcription is too high at £2.50. If you wish to download a complete village/community/parish, the prices are prohibitive. I have studied four parishes in the Itchen Valley for the past 40 years and have all the previous censuses from 1841-1911 downloaded and made into Excel databases. With these latter eight census returns I could download all of these parishes by paying one subscription to Ancestry. Now, I am being asked to pay for individual households. For example, in one of these parishes in 1921 there were 60 households. The maths say that is 60 x £3.50 to download the whole parish equalling £210. It is crazy to expect people to pay this kind of money (I refuse to pay a subscription to FMP on top of this for a measly 10% reduction). If I download all my four parishes for 1921 the price is close to £1,000. How utterly stupid is that?

    Surely, someone must have foreseen this problem. I would probably consider £1 for a download of one household and would urge FMP to revise its charging. I have looked forward to the release of the 1921 Census for ten years and now find I cannot afford to carry on my research because the micro-charging prices are way too high. I am 74 and live on a pension and just do not have that sort of money.

    Do they realise these high prices exclude many of us from accessing the 1921 census in the interest of local history community research? I don’t think FMP have any appreciation of how some people use Census Returns for extensive local history research of an area, town, parish and even a county. If they did, they would have devised a much better and fairer way of charging. Instead, they opted to profiteer but, in today’s political environment, perhaps I should not be surprised. I note that FOI requests are denied as well about the way that FMP was able to acquire a publicly funded resource and make money out of it (See above FOI request: CAS-66418-D0C3P1). What have they to hide?

    This is not an attack on the hard-working staff who have done the digitisation of the 1921 Census. I only have admiration for librarians and archivists and have been wonderfully served throughout my life. But, I am afraid, the micro-charging policy of FMP is misguided and smacks very much of a company wishing to make as much money as it can out of the 1921 Census. They will have no more of mine. I will, though, continue to subscribe to Ancestry and the excellent British Newspapers Archive because they have sensible prices and are good value.

  50. William D Taylor says:

    I made a comment about the exorbitant cost of the micro-charging policy linked to the 1921 census by FindMyPast.
    When I pressed ‘Post Comment’ it appeared above but needed to be ‘pre-moderated’. It then disappeared and has not been published since. This was almost two weeks ago, I was not offensive but made some observations that perhaps the National Archives/FindMyPast may not have agreed with.
    I was astounded to see that FindMyPast and the National Archives are advertising the 1921 Census on national television during prime time broadcasts. Hard nosed capitalism is at work and students of history are now being used as commercial pawns, Free-market profiteering?
    I would be grateful if you could email me and explain why my first comment was erased and probably this one too.

  51. Thelma Jones says:

    Referring to Simon Ash’s letter …I also could not find streets that existed in the 1911 census…so annoying and …going off course a little why do they allow so many census ect to be public in America and over here we have to wait so long…

  52. Dave says:

    Its too expensive for any serious Genealogists they need to offer a monthly subscription instead, £3.50 per entry will not see them get a return they will end up losing money just like the M6 Toll road, ie no one using it!

  53. Janet Brown says:

    I found William Taylor’s comments about pricing interesting. The prices in 2009 when the 1911 census was released (2 years early) were very similar: £2.40 for a transcript, £3.60 for an original image. With inflation, that means it is cheaper now than it was in 2009. Also, regarding his swipe at the Tory government, does he have anything to say about the fact that the 1911 census release under the Labour government was more expensive.

  54. Lisa says:

    I’m a local historian and have been plotting family movements within my town using the 1841 through 1911 censuses, plus 1939 health register. I was hoping the 1921 census would answer questions on home locations by including house numbers or names, but there seems to be fewer of these identified, compared to 1911.

    But this hasn’t been the biggest problem. I appreciate the effort and time and care and dedication that it took to digitise the documents, and I am grateful, but the number of mistakes in transcriptions in the 1921 far exceeds those in previous censuses. I counted more than 300 birthplaces to assume a different town 250 miles away because of a partial name similarity. Some street names I cannot identify because the spelling resembles no place I’d ever heard of.

    For my research, I scoured 6,237 individuals living in 824 residences. I found an average of 10% spelling mistakes. That’s a minimum because I choose not to spend £2,595.60, in addition to the 10+ years’ premium subscription I’ve paid to Find My Past, to view the actual documents to verify; I’m certain I’d find more if I did. Travelling to the National Archives would be an option, but I’d need to stay a month there, considering the extent of my research.

    I’d like to propose two things that will help me immeasurably, perhaps others too.
    1) Have someone local to the area to either help in the transcriptions, or to give an eye over drafts. I know the street names and also surnames that are prominent in the area.
    2) Offer a “passport” for payments. I have not downloaded individual files because I detest the idea of spending £3.15 each time when I might want to look at 10 records average a day. I would pay £25 at one go for the ability to see 10 records. Until that happens, I will wait until another site, such as Ancestry, offers the documents as part of their subscription, including the easy ability to report corrections (I have quite a few ready to report!)

  55. Tatsfield History Project says:

    We have had the same experience. To view the original entries for our parish would have cost us £700. A first check on what was available online free of charge showed that of 223 partial transcriptions 57 contained errors, many of which would be recognised only by people with local knowledge.

    We raised with Findmypast the idea of a deal by which we would correct the errors in return for reducing the cost of downloading images. This came to nothing.

    Happily, we are within an hour and a half’s drive to Kew, where willing help is on hand and there are comfortable surroundings where free access to the records is made easy.

  56. Victoria says:

    The Canadian census (both images and transcriptions) for the same date is free online (literally free) as a government service, via a government website. The idea of a country digitizing its census only to only make it available to the wealthy–or those who happen to live in a day’s journey of a certain place–is wildly weird, especially since the government isn’t the one making money. Digitization costs money, but what are governments (or even charities and ngos, who often fund digitization), for if not to provide funds for projects like this?

    I would love to know the negotiated terms of the agreement between FindMyPast and the government. From the comments made by the PR team, it clearly includes not being able to release the date at which the census will “actually” be available (if ever). This would be a fun Freedom of Information request for someone with some spare time.

  57. Tadorna says:

    Hi Victoria. Instead of a fun FOI it would recieve an automatic exemption as there are time and cost limits to FOI of a few hundred quid (exact cost escapes me right now).
    Of course no-one likes to pay which is why there would likely be an uproar for funding this work through taxes as many would say they would never access the records so why are they paying for it.
    The staggering amount of detail and procedure to accomplish this project would be truly mind-boggling. £3.50 for a record is cheap. It just is. Consider the costs of other public documents such as tv licences, driving licences, passports, copies of birth certificates etc. and the difference is clear. Having an insight into this kind of work I can tell you that this would be painstaking work which could only be undertaken by highly detail driven experts. It is not work for the faint hearted. At this cost, it cannot be classified as only for the wealthy. It is the cost of a pint of beer and people readily chuck many of those down their necks in an evening. I have downloaded my first record and already it is a revelation with two new grand uncles no-one new anything about. For £3.50, massively worth it.

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