Access to the Digitised Historical Censuses 1861-1911
Richard Rodger, FRHS, FAcSS Professor Emeritus, University of Edinburgh
Name’ and ‘Address’ are critical to tracking people, to linkages with property and legal documents, to understanding household structures, and to spatial analysis in times past, as now. For historians, nominal data linkage is impaired when access to Census data is restricted and this in turn weakens the utility of archival sources more generally where names and addresses are common elements. Social and economic history, family and cultural history, genealogy and local history are undermined as a result. The central theme here is that under present arrangements Scottish historians and the Scottish public are denied access a crucial publicly-funded historical source, and that a ‘pay-as-you go’ approach is inappropriate for access to archival materials. No other European country applies such a policy. Examples based on Edinburgh data illustrate how access to the Census can enhance historical analysis and enrich the productivity of other archival sources linked through names and addresses.
I believe local history societies deserve better access to the historical census ie those of 1861-1911, and of course 1921 in due course. There is a digitised resource, funded by The National Archives out of taxation, that has been limited in its utility by the paywall which is operated by Ancestry and others.
I have written an article explaining why this arrangement impairs local historical studies, and why it should be amended. The location of the data I have used to illustrate this argument has little to do with your area, but the principle is the same: making the public pay twice to see public records is no longer acceptable.
Here is the link to the paper.