1901 Census Project Online – Dick Eastman

I have written several times in the past about the plans of the Public Record Office in England to digitize the 1901 census records and to make them available online. Those articles are available in the Help and Learning centre on the following site:


The Public Record Office in London obviously has been watching the rapid growth of genealogy on the Internet and is taking steps to be prepared for their next major release. British laws require that census records be kept private for 100 years before being published. The next major event will be the release of the 1901 census records in the year 2002. However, the Record Office already has a pilot version online today.

The Public Record Office launched the pilot project using the 1891 returns for Norfolk registration districts. This Website is a pilot for the release of the whole of the 1901 Census for England and Wales. The records will be made available on the Internet on the first working day of 2002. The pilot project that is available today consists of the digitized returns for the county of Norfolk from the 1891 Census. The Census reveals who was living at a particular address in each city, town and village on census night (5th April 1891).

Quoting from a press release issued by the 1901 Census Project Team at the Public Record Office:
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1901 Census Project—The 1891 Pilot

A key element of the 1901 Census project is a pilot using the 1891 returns for Norfolk. The returns will be scanned, transcribed and made available over the Internet. This will give users an opportunity to help us test various parts of the service and obtain a preview of how the main 1901 service is going to look. A key feature of the pilot will be an online questionnaire so that users can give us immediate feedback on the service.

Why Norfolk?
Norfolk was selected because we needed a county which was not too large but had a reasonable number of inhabitants (Norfolk had about 500,000 in 1891). The chosen county had to cover urban and rural areas, a coastal region (to include ports with merchant and naval vessels) and in the urban areas to include a range of institutions (e.g. workhouses). Norfolk met all these criteria.

Where to access it?
On our new census web site at census.pro.gov.uk. From any computer connected to the Internet, whether that be at home, at your local library, record office or even cyber café.

When to access it?
1 May 2001 to 31 July 2001

How will you search?
You will be able to conduct a number of searches- by name, place, address, institution or vessel. There will be clear instructions on the different types of searches and lots of handy tips to guide you along.

Name searches
We expect that most of you will wish to search by name and it will work as follows:

First a basic search using name (forenames and surnames), place and age. If a surname is double barrelled, users need to search on each element (e.g. for Lloyd-Gibson you may need to search on ‘Lloyd’ and ‘Gibson’). There will be the option of giving a range of years if the precise age of the individual is not known. Features of this basic search include the use of:

1. Wildcards for single or multiple characters (e.g. ‘BROW*’, ‘BR*N’, BR_N’ or BR*W*E’).
2. A soundex match to identify names with similar phonetics, such as Brown and Browne.
3. Synonyms and abbreviations (e.g., for John - Jon, Jack and Jno). Where users give a full forename the system will return matching synonyms and abbreviations. Therefore a search for ‘John Brown will also return all matching "Jno Brown" records etc.

If you find that your basic search returns too many results, then an advanced search is available using a variety of other fields to refine your search, such as ‘occupation’ and ‘where born’.

There will be a charge for part of the service so that we can test out the charging mechanisms in advance of the main 1901 service going live.

The index will be free. You can conduct as many basic and advanced searches as you wish, all for free.

The charged part works as follows:

1. Viewing a digital image of the census return. This will cost 80p. A digital image covers the whole page from the census enumerator’s book on which the individual’s entry appears. Once you have bought the image, you can save it to your own system and/or print out a copy. If you do not have printing facilities at home, you will be able to place an order online and a copy will be posted to you.
2. Viewing the details for an individual transcribed from the census returns. This will cost 40p. If you wish to view the details for all the others in the same household, you can do this for an extra 50p.

There will be clear instructions on how to make your payment for images and/or transcriptions.

How to pay
For the pilot you can only pay by credit card. The following credit cards will be accepted: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Debit Cards (Switch/Delta).

The cost of administration makes it uneconomic to charge in very small units, so there will a minimum payment in advance for using a credit card. This will be £5 and will buy you multiples of transcripts and/or images. Once you have used up the first £5 it will be simply pay-as-you-go at the cost of each individual transaction. A credit card session will last for 24 hours, but in this period you may suspend and reactivate your search and use up any credit left on your £5 charge.

Your feedback is vital
Please help us by completing the online questionnaire which forms part of the pilot. The results of your feedback will be carefully analysed and used in the final stages of preparing the 1901 service for launch in January 2002.

I spent a bit of time on this new Web site and found it easy to use. The only mandatory item required for searches is the surname. However, you can also narrow the search by specifying any of the following:

* First name
* Age on 5th April 1891 (you can specify exact age or up to plus/minus ten years)
* Place

You also can specify either an exact match of the spelling of the name or widen the search to include all similar-sounding names.

If the above is insufficient, you may switch to an "Advanced Searches" form that gives you extra fields to enter search terms and more control over the synonym and "sounds like" facilities on first and last names. The extra search terms include occupation, where born, gender, relationship to the head of household, address and marital status.

Keep in mind that this is a pilot project. One of its primary purposes is to find any software bugs or unexpected conditions. Do not be surprised if you encounter a few. A feedback form is available on the Web site for reporting difficulties you may have encountered.

The new pilot project was shown to the public at the Society of Genealogists’ Fair in London on May 5 and 6. In addition, it will also be shown on June 23rd at the Yorkshire Family History Fair, York Racecourse, and also on July 7 at the South West Area Group of Family History Societies Family History Fair, Winter Gardens, Weston-Super-Mare.

For more information, or to access the 1901 Census Project Pilot Project database, look at: census.pro.gov.uk.

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