2022 is a big year for censuses! The 1921 census of England and Wales was released in January, and the 1950 USA census will be released in April. If you have done any genealogy research yourself, you will no doubt be aware of the wealth of information available from old census records. Genealogists get very excited every time new ones are made public, and then the ten year countdown begins for the next one.
Why, you may ask, would a 1921 census and a 1950 census be available the same year? It’s because in the UK, census records are prohibited by law from release for a full century, for privacy reasons, while in the USA, they are kept unreleased for 72 years, for unclear reasons. Many people think it’s because that was the average life expectancy at the time the relevant law was passed, but that is not the case. It is more about odd bureaucratic happenstance. Official information about it can be found here, and I will talk more about that next month, so if you’re curious, you have that to look forward to!
The 1921 England and Wales census is particularly important because the 1931 census was destroyed by fire, much like the 1890 census of the USA, and there was no census taken in 1941, because of World War II, so there are no similar records due to be released until 2052. There is the 1939 England and Wales Register, a census-like document that was created to facilitate the production of National Identity Cards, which helps bridge the gap. The Register has been available for years, although it contains redactions. Officially, the redactions are only of people who are still alive, but depending on where you access the document and how recently it has been updated, this may or may not be true.
In any case, the release of the 1921 records is very exciting for anyone interested in genealogy in England or Wales. (The 1921 census did not include Northern Ireland, for a variety of reasons, but it did include Scotland. My understanding is that the records for Scotland will be released separately, via the website scotlandspeople.gov.uk, but no specific date has yet been announced.) The UK National Archives provides information on accessing the records here. If you are not actually in England or Wales, there is currently no way to access it without paying a fee. Eventually these records will, I’m sure, be available on all the major genealogy websites, and possibly at some point free to the wider public. Until then, seeing them will require either money or patience, but they are, indeed, available!