Leading article: Family affair

Tuesday 13 January 2009 01:00

The first tranches of the 1911 national census will be posted online today. Earlier censuses have already been made available on the internet, but this is the first that the public was required to fill in by hand.

The result is that many of us will be able to inspect our ancestors' handwriting, assuming they were among the 36 million inhabitants of England and Wales at the time. Even better, we will be able to read the additional comments. A few gems have already been uncovered.

One suffragette made the forceful point that: "If I am intelligent enough to fill in this paper, I am intelligent enough to put a cross on a voting paper." Another householder, apparently irritated at listing his family members, asks: "Would you like to know what each had for breakfast?"

Well, yes, actually. Although even without that privileged information, the rich meal on offer promises to be enough to satisfy a legion of family historians. Bon appetit.

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