The dust is beginning to settle on the 1921 Census release, and I’ve had chance to familiarise myself with Findmypast’s online search, Here are some tips to help you get the best out of it.
1. Draw up your wish list and set your budget.
I’m not entering into the debate over the cost of viewing the 1921 Census online, or the tie-in with Findmypast as sole provider for the immediate future. Only to say it is standard for these major record releases, and company’s have to recoup the massive digitisation costs involved. Filming, transcribing and indexing something on this scale does not come cheap. And there is opportunity to access the 1921 Census for free – at The National Archives (Kew), Manchester Central Library, and The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth). But then you need to factor in transport costs, and possibly an overnight stay. Family history, like many other hobbies and interests, does cost.
What I will say is before you even start searching is draw up a wish list of those people you are most interested in, prioritise them, set your maximum budget and stick to it. Otherwise it is all too easy to get carried away.
I compiled my immediate wish list, for direct line ancestors alive in 1921, and stuck to it. It amounted to eight images. Any other records, including ones relating to my one-name study (there are 527 people named Aveyard in this census), and my Batley St Mary’s one-place study will have to wait until I can get to Manchester Central Library for free access, or until it all becomes part of the Findmypast subscription.
2. Play around with searches to familiarise yourself with the system.
The second piece of advice I would give is don’t dive straight in. Play around with searches to get used to how the system works. That way you are going to get the best, and most accurate, results – and crucially minimise the risk of purchasing the wrong record.
3. Be aware of transcription errors.
This release appears to be littered with them across the entire range of possible searches, and this will affect results. Try to keep an open mind when searching. Be flexible with searches, and alert to possible transcriptions errors.
For example, for one of my ancestors the Christian name Martin was incorrectly transcribed as Morton, perhaps signalling the transcriber as a fan of the Morton Farrier Genetic Genealogist book series! I did not automatically discount the entry. Based on other information I was able to identify it as a likely error and took the plunge. But it could, depending on the error scale, result in a negative search. And the pay-per-view angle may rule out speculative purchases.
There is a transcription error reporting mechanism if you purchase the transcript – as I said I’ve not done this, preferring to spend my money on the original image. If you have not purchased the transcript you can still report the error, but the method is via email to Findmypast, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The link giving more details about this is here.
4. Make use of the Advance Search facilities.
When you conduct a search you are given some basic information to enable you to determine if the result is the one for your family. For example, when searching for my great grandad Patrick Cassidy in Batley, the following clues are given.
The hint says the record includes Patrick, John, Mary and two others. My problem with this was no John is linked to my great grandad’s family. And who are the two others? Can I confirm these names? Was this the correct family?
There is a simple way you can drill down this information to a more complete, granular level. Go to the Advanced Search. Leave the ‘Who’ boxes blank, and go down to the ‘Parish’ box and put in ‘Batley,’ and in other ‘Other Household Member” box type ‘Patrick Cassidy’. The results confirm the full names, birth year and birthplace of the other four members of the household, including Anne Cassidy, Mary Cassidy and Nelly Cassidy, plus Durham-born John Nixon. All this gave me confidence that I would be purchasing the correct record.
This is one example of an Advanced Search which worked well in this instance, though it may prove more challenging for common names. And some found Registration District worked better than Parish.
However, do not be put off. There are lots of other filters and options too. It is a case of playing with them to find the ones which help narrow the results suited to particular circumstances. And you can find lots of information simply through the free Advanced Search – and this may be sufficient to construct plans and spreadsheets for example for a one-place or one-name study.
One other thing to be aware of when searching on age is this census has a change. It gives it in years and months, with those under one month noted as such, rather than only years. This may affect searches, though it is always good practice to broaden age searches to give years +/- either side, as accuracy and ages in the census do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
And, in a similar vein, do always keep at the back of your mind transcription errors and (in)accuracy of information provided by ancestors, which can skew results. Which leads onto Tip 5.
5. Be aware people may not be where expected, or tell the truth with the information they give.
There’s always the possibility that people may not be with their family on census night. The timing of this census, 19 June, instead of early spring has added complications. People may have been on holiday.
There is also the issue of seasonal workers. My County Mayo-born grandpa, who by the mid-1920s was in Batley, looks to be over on a farm in Cheshire with two of his brothers in this census, working as a farm labourer. They are appropriately living in Irish Man’s Cottage! The men in this family did have a tendency to come over to England in the summer for seasonal farm labouring work, and this appears to be borne out in the 1921 Census. It may also be the case for others normally resident in Ireland but who came over to England seasonally to undertake work on farms. It is worth checking to see if they do feature.
And, as ever, be alert for those half-truths and downright misleading lies which always creep in and can affect your search.
Again it is a case of keeping an open mind – though the pay per view element of this release may curtail the ability to undertake speculative downloads. This is a luxury which may best be reserved for the free access locations at The National Archives (Kew), Manchester Central Library, and The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth). But you can undertake the prepatory work from home using the free basic searches, short of any image purchase.
6. View the image, not the transcript.
Linked to 3 (above), I would advise the image purchase option is always preferable to buying a transcript, even if it costs slightly more. The transcript may contain multiple errors which, unless you view the image, you will be oblivious to. Whereas if you view the image you can see exactly what the entry should say. And it may include details not referred to in the transcript. And there is always that added frisson of excitement of seeing the actual handwriting and signature of those completing the form.
7. Make sure you click on the Extra Materials.
Your purchase covers more documents than the original image. Don’t focus on this image at the expense of the ‘Extra Materials.’
In these you will find the cover, which contains the RG15 Series Reference for the original household image, and Piece Number. Though I must admit my preferred method for obtaining the document reference is by downloading and saving the image (see 9, below), simply because the cover may be difficult to read and downloading/saving provides more accuracy by hopefully cutting out any enumerator error. Also be aware it is not a full reference number.
The ‘Front’ document contains that all-important address which is missing from the original household image. For more details about addresses see 8, below.
There are also maps which, besides pinpointing the area linked to the household, also have some useful background information – for example, population numbers, or details of any boundary changes.
The final files in these ‘Extra Materials’ are Plans of the Division. There may be more than one of these. The plans contain Enumeration District information, including boundaries and contents, basically the route the enumerator took. So, for example, for one set of my Hill ancestors, the Enumeration District where they lived comprised of:
Commencing at 1 Richmond Street taking all houses on left hand side to top odd nos. thence all houses in Vera Street, Crescent Street, Back Crescent Street all yards and Back Upton Street and down the left hand side of Upton Street to bottom even nos.
This is all vital information to pinpointing where the Hill family lived. This is particularly important if it is an area is unfamiliar to you, or if the streets have long-since gone. It will enable you to easily identify the area in old OS maps.
Note, once you have purchased an image it, along with the extra materials, are available to you each time you log on to Findmypast. So, if you missed them in your first eager foray into the census, you have not lost the opportunity.
8. The address is not missing when viewing the image.
Whilst it may not be immediately obvious, contrary to what some on social media believe, the address is there. There are two ways of accessing it. The ‘Extra Materials’ document suite includes one entitled ‘Front.’ This has the schedule which includes the address.
The same document can be accessed by clicking on the arrow to the right of the completed household schedule. Do be careful when using this method that you do not click too far as this will take you to the next household schedule and the option to buy it.
9. Download the images to save, including that all-important document reference.
Always save the document images to ensure you always have access to them. The best way of doing this, and getting the clearest image, is by using the ‘download record’ facility. When saving this way the RG15 document reference and piece number is included in the file title. It is not the full reference number, but it is a start.
You can also get the document reference from the cover, which is in the extra materials.
It is good practice to note the document reference, and including it as part of the file title is ideal.
10. Take note of the employment information.
The single most exciting information section in this census from my point of view is that on employment. Not only is there the occupation title, but for those working for an employer the name of that employer is provided, along with the place of work. This is fertile ground for further research to expand your knowledge of not only what your ancestor’s occupation was, but also where they worked, and investigation as to what business records survive – including any relating to employees.
For example, my husband’s 14-year-old grandma is described as a pottery paintress at Keeling and Co. Ltd, Dalehall, Staffs. I can now find out more about this pottery works.
My nana was a 16-year-old cloth weaver at J., T. & J. Taylor’s woollen manufacturers. West Yorkshire Archive Services has some company records which may be worth checking.
A whole series of my male ancestors worked in the coal mining industry. This census was taken during the coal miners’ strike. My ancestors do give their coal mining employment details, with the ominous words “Out of Work”. The names of their employers, and the specific coal mines, means I can now look at local papers to find out about the effect of industrial action generally locally, as well as how it affected specific coal mines. For me these include confirmation that my great grandfather did indeed work at Soothill Wood Colliery, Batley.
For my previous 1921 Census post, which looks at its background, includes some tips, has things to look out for, discusses why it is so important, & explains why I’m looking forward to it, click here.