Who was living in your house in 1911?

Now you can find out, thanks to the publication of that year's census on the internet

By Chris Green
Tuesday 13 January 2009 01:00
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Herbert Asquith was the prime minister, the Liberal Party was in power and most people in Britain did not live beyond the age of 54. The year was 1911 and, on the first Sunday in April, the head of every household in the country sat down to fill in their census form.

Now, the results of the survey have been made available to the public in the form of a huge online database, allowing millions of people to delve into their family backgrounds and find out where their ancestors lived and what they did for a living.

The census forms, which contain handwritten personal details of the 36 million people living in England and Wales that year, have been converted into digital form and uploaded on to the internet by the National Archives.

Members of the public can view the forms for about £1 each, allowing them to find out what jobs their forefathers did and even see what their handwriting looked like. Those who live in houses dating back to 1911 or earlier can even type in their own address and discover who lived there 100 years ago.

Researchers have already located the pages filled out by the country's then prime minister, Herbert Asquith, and that of the author Virginia Woolf. The forms submitted by the Royal Family – including King George V – are also available to view, as are those filled out by the ancestors of present day celebrities including David Beckham and Amy Winehouse.

So far, 80 per cent of the available records from England have been uploaded, with the remainder set to go online in the next few months. The documents, which include high-quality colour images of the forms as well as written transcripts, are available at www.1911census.co.uk.

The records show the name, age, place of birth, marital status and occupation of every resident in every home, as well as their relationship to the head of the household.

The project, which was not due to be completed until 2012 but has been pushed forward because of public demand, was carried out by the National Archives in co-operation with the ancestry website findmypast.com. Staff worked around the clock, scanning, on average, one page per second.

The 1911 census was the first to ask women how long they had been married and how many children they had, and was also the first time that the full details of British Army personnel stationed overseas were recorded. It covered England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and even included Royal Navy and Merchant Navy personnel, who filled out the forms in foreign ports or aboard their vessels.

Elaine Collins, commercial director of findmypast.com, said: "The 1911 census offers a crucial new entry point to family history research for people who have 'hit a wall' in their family tree research."

Oliver Morley, the director of business development at the National Archives, added: "The 1911 census is a poignant reflection of how different life was in early 20th-century Britain, before the Great War."

Britain in 1911: Ancestors of the stars

*Kate Moss

The supermodel's great-grandmother Alice Moss is listed in the census as a widowed mother of five children who lived with her mother in Brixton. Fashion is evidently in the Moss family genes: she worked as a "mantle maker", responsible for creating the fashionable cloaks which wealthy women of the day would wear over their dresses. She worked from home, and was forced to raise her children alone following the death of her husband, Moss's great-grandfather, in 1909.

*Amy Winehouse

The singer's paternal great-great-grandfather Abraham Grandish is recorded as a Russian immigrant living with his wife and children in Spitalfields, east London. Grandish cited his occupation as a "hawker", someone who travelled about selling goods. His wife, Fanny, Winehouse's great-grandmother, was a "waterproofer" who added protective rubber coatings to people's overcoats to make them resistant to rain.

*David Beckham

Three generations of the footballer's paternal ancestors lived in Walworth, south-east London. The star's great-great grandfather, John Beckham, lived with his son and daughter-in-law – David's great-grandparents – and his grandchildren in a single household. John Beckham worked as a "scavenger", or street cleaner, for the local council, while his son Edward drove carts.

Britain in 1911: Who lived in the famous addresses

*Herbert Asquith

The prime minister is listed as living at 10 Downing Street with his wife Emma, their two sons, Cyril and Anthony, and their two daughters, Helen and Elizabeth. The family were looked after by 14 domestic servants.

*Tony Blair

In 1911, Tony Blair's London townhouse – which he bought for £3.5m in 2004 – was occupied by a 47-year-old Leicestershire widow called Minnie Milles. Her only company was her servant, Eliza Wells, 45.

*Madonna

In 1911 the owner of Ashcombe House, bought by Madonna in 2001, was Alfred Douglas-Hamilton, the Duke of Hamilton. He was absent at the time of the census, so the form was filled out by the gamekeeper, Thomas Bennett.

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