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Where were you on Census night?

15:15 Mon 28th Feb 2011 |

It's that time of decade again, the National Census, data collecting on a grand scale.  Where will you be? Where were you last time? What will be different?

In a hundred and one years time, your descendants will have access to the 2011 census, they will have probably already found you on earlier returns, they will know where you were born, where you grew up, who you married or lived with, they will know of your children and what job you did, up to 2001.  What will they find different?  Will they find a surprise?  How much will your life and your family have changed?

The first census return that I appear on is the 1961. I would have been 5 and a half, living with my parents, older sister, younger brother and younger sister on a farm near Ormskirk in Lancashire.  Now then, anyone researching my family history, having found my parents as a young married couple living on a hill farm in West Yorkshire in 1951, would wonder what the heck went on to take them into another county.  Three children born in Yorkshire and a new baby born in Ormskirk would indicate it was a recent migration. 

Ten years later and the family are still in the exact same place with all 4 children of school age and no additions or losses from the household and so there is nothing of interest to add to the tree in 2072!

What a difference a decade can make, by 1981 things have changed. I am married with one child and living with my Husband, but he is born in Southend-in-Sea and my son is born in Cardiff.  As long as the future researcher has used civil registration it will be explainable! My eldest sister is living in St Helens with her St Helens born husband and 2 daughters, how did that happen?  My parents are living in Parbold with the 2 younger siblings, so after 2 decades with no change everything changed.  The 10 years between 1971 and 1981 saw the biggest upheaval within the family which reading the return in 2082 would never explain.

By the 1991 return only the youngest sister is living at home with Mum and Dad in Parbold, my eldest sister is in the same house in St Helens (and by the way still is after 34 years!)  My brother has his own house with his wife and young family in Skelmersdale, where he also still is!

My family are in a different village to the 1981 and we have 2 more children born locally.  Hopefully the 1991 return will be published as the original Householder returns and my descendants will read my messages left for them that include detail beyond that asked for on the form, I had been researching my family history for 4 years by the time the 1991 return came around and I took great care to make sure that any possible questions that might have cropped up in the future were answered, like including my maiden name, and adding full addresses for where we were all born. As at the time I was working part-time, doing a full-time degree and teaching Family History, I managed to squeeze in all the detailed info. 

By the 2001 return, Mum had died, Dad was living in different village, with my sister and her husband just 6 doors away, I wonder if anyone in the future will spot that?  I was divorced with the 3 children in the same house as 1991 and my ex-husband living in the same village but by then I had a grandson, just 2 years old.  I included him on the 2001 return with his full name as registered, his mother and father had split up and she was living with her father and attending college.  My grandson lived with us during the week and I always thought that his mother and her father would never have bothered to fill in the return and I couldn't have handed mine in feeling that my grandson had not been recorded. 

In the future, the snapshot our descendants get will be their insight into our lives and relationships, where we worked, the kind of home we had and where we carried on our lives on a daily basis.  That has always been how I have looked at the returns from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is unique to each of us, a mark that we leave to show we were here; it is our opportunity to be remembered and discovered.

The 2011 census collection will be no different, it's value to out immediate future is important on local and national levels but it's future value to our descendants will be priceless.  This is reported to be the last National Census in England and Wales of its kind.  In the future such a picture of our lives will not exist to be revealed to the generations to come and so make the most of this one and think beyond the next few years to the centuries ahead when people will hopefully feel the delight and excitement of discovering you,

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