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Scotland's 1921 census - where is it?

The 100 year rule is standard when it comes to release of genealogical records here in the UK. This is all about protecting the privacy of people who are potentially still living, and as newborn babies are listed on census returns, we have to wait 100 years before seeing the data. Interestingly, the US and Canada take a very different approach, and their limit is set at 72 years. The 1950 US census is now available to browse - free of charge - online.

Amid much fanfare, FindMyPast published online access to the 1921 census of England and Wales on 6th January 2021. The main criticism was the price, with each record costing £2.50 to view. Over the summer, FindMyPast has run half price weekends to bring the cost down, and it seems fair to assume that at some point, subscribers to FindMyPast will get access to the 1921 census as part of their standard subscription. There is no 1921 census of Ireland - it was never taken because this was at the height of the Irish independence campaign.

So what about the Scottish census? Good question! The Scottish census in 1921 was taken in the same way as it was in England and Wales, on 19 June 1921. The Scottish census records are held by National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, and pre-pandemic, they were set to release records in 2021. Everything was pushed back by Covid, and although FindMyPast were awarded the contract to digitise English/Welsh records, this did not extend to the Scottish Records. In fact, the 1921 English/Welsh census had already been out for over a month when the National Records of Scotland announced in February 2022 that it had partnered with Queens University in Belfast to transcribe the 1921 census. We're now 7 months later and still no sign of the census. At the end of August, NRS issued a statement saying that they were still on course to release the 1921 census by the end of 2022.

What can I expect from the 1921 census?

What we do know is that the 1921 Scotland census images will be available only through Scotland's People, the official government portal. Viewing census images is not free on Scotland's People, and each page you look at will cost £1.50. There are a few differences on the 1921 census, which could make things a lot easier for researchers:

  • ages are given in years and months - making tracking down the right birth record easier.

  • children under 15 had to answer whether both parents were living - this may make identifying World War I deaths easier.

  • Employers - for the first time, people were asked who they worked for as well as their occupation.

  • Married adults were asked how many children they had, whether or not they were resident in the house on the night of the census.

  • Questions about disabilities removed.


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