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  Being Counted


On 27 March we shall all take part in the National Census, our contribution to future historians as well as to government census analysts. This will be the 21st census held since 1801, every decade since 1941. We are all familiar with the range of information requested in the 19th Century censuses - age, marital status and infirmities being included from 1851. In the 20th Century the range of questions gradually expanded, for example, household amenities were included from 1951. One question continued to cause vexation, that of age; in 1951 women were specifically asked to be more honest about their age!

This year's census will have more questions than ever before. Enumerators were first recruited in 1841, some 35,000, the same number as have been recruited this year. Before 1841 overseers of the poor and other key people in the parish were given the responsibility for collecting census information. In 1911 enumerators had to transcribe information into their own record books, but we can see copies of the original forms as completed by our ancestors. From 7 March until 29 May the British Library is holding an exhibition examining controversies surrounding census taking  as well as showing what the results have told us - worth a detour from King's Cross if you have time.

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