There was an interesting article in some of yesterday’s papers which suggested that next year’s national census will be the last. There seemed to be three reasons given:
Firstly, Britain’s population is now highly dynamic, with economic migration perhaps likely to become more prevalent. Secondly, there seemed to be concern that, whether due to paranoia, deception or the great British sense of humour, there were too many false or joke responses in recent censuses. Remember back to the 1991 census at the height of the Poll Tax fiasco when we feared our census returns would be cross-checked against our tax declarations? Then, in 2001, we were asked for the first time to declare our religious beliefs – 390,000 of us (yep, I do mean “us”) declared ourselves as “Jedi”.
The third reason given was that there are now many better ways of judging the size and make up of the population. Simply asking Tesco’s for their Club Card data would be start (although I doubt the State could afford to buy it from them), while a bit of data mining on Facebook or the viewing figures for X Factor would help.
So, all this got me thinking about the implications of discontinuing the censuses on future genealogists. Censuses have been taken in the UK since 1811 but only those from 1841 were kept. 1941 didn’t happen because of the war and 1911 is the latest one to be released for public research. Online resources such as Ancestry and Find My Past have fully indexed searchable database of all the accessible censuses and they are the most fabulous window into our ancestors’ lives – telling us where they lived, their family structures as children were born, grew up and left home, their occupations and where they were born.
In a hundred years then, what will our descendents be able to find out about us after the 2011 census? Think about it, our medical records will soon be available on the NHS network, and will no doubt be published in a hundred years, as will criminal records and pretty much all public records on which we appear.
What about our online personas? Facebook already retains profiles for people who have died. While I doubt Facebook will be around in 20, much less 100 years, what will happen to the data? Even if it was taken offline, the data won’t (probably can’t) be destroyed. Will genealogists force its custodians to release the data under Freedom of Information? What about the other companies or agencies that hold databases on us – Tescos, Google, O2 et al, MI5? How about our blogs?
So, yeah it looks like future genealogists will have plenty of information on us with or without the national census. Scary, isn’t it?