PICTURE OF LIFE IN 1911 IS COMPLETED AS REMAINING 1911 CENSUS RECORDS GO ONLINE
- The ‘infirmities’ column is released online for the first time, detailing people’s health conditions
- ‘Lunatic’ and ‘imbecile’ popularly used, reflecting a different kind of society
- Unusual entries: ’old age’, ‘voteless’, ‘bald’ and ‘short of cash’
The final, missing column of data from the 1911 census, which details individuals’ infirmities is today released for the very first time at www.findmypast.co.uk andwww.1911census.co.uk, the family history websites which first launched the 1911 census three years ago in 2009 in association with The National Archives.
The infirmity column details wide-ranging descriptions of peoples’ health conditions as perceived and hand-written by the head of the household on the night of Sunday 2 April 1911. Under data protection regulations, this sensitive information has remained closed until now.
A less ‘politically correct’ society
‘Lunatic’, ‘imbecile’ and ‘feeble-minded’ are some of the most commonly used entries reflecting an era before such terminology was deemed unacceptable. The census in fact prompts the respondent to record if a person is ‘totally deaf’, ‘deaf and dumb’, ‘totally blind’, ‘lunatic’, ‘imbecile’ or ‘feeble-minded.’
5 most common ‘infirmities’ recorded in 1911:
Deaf and dumb
However, not all the entries are negative or insensitive. The 1911 records also reflect the humour and curious family dynamics from a century ago - not too dissimilar to what we know now in 2012. One extraordinary record details a Mr John Underwood from Hastings recording his children as ‘quarrelsome’, ‘stubborn’, ‘greedy’, ‘vain’ and ‘noisy’. He even records himself as ‘bad-tempered’ and his wife as suffering from a ‘long tongue’.
Another unusual entry is from Thomas Wallace Young, who was described as being ‘bald and toothless’, helping us picture exactly what he looked like. William Robert Arnold from Yorkshire commented on his financial status in 1911 by recording his infirmity as being ‘short of cash’.
Suffragette labels ‘voteless’ as her infirmity
The cause of the suffragettes is also illustrated within the new records, with some women listing their infirmities as not having the vote or not being enfranchised. For example, four women living in the same household recorded their infirmities as ‘voteless, therefore classed with idiots and children’.
Infirmities? ‘None, thank God’
Some chose to make a note of their good health instead of the health problems the form enquired about, such as ‘well’, ‘healthy’, ‘sane’, ‘alright’ and even ‘perfect’. Evelyn Baker and her family from Leeds were recorded in the census by their father Addiman Parkin Barker as simply being ‘alive’. Seventy-two entries simply say ‘none, thank God’.
10 unusual infirmities in the records:
Bald and toothless
Short of cash
Connections between infirmity and profession
A correlation between infirmity and occupation can also be identified in some cases. The biggest source of employment for blind men and women was basket-weaving. Other trades for blind men were musicians or musical instrument makers. Women who were ‘deaf and dumb’ were often employed within the textile or garment trades, or in domestic service, while men were most likely to be labourers.
Debra Chatfield, family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “The infirmities column is the last piece of the jigsaw completing the 1911 census. This column alone provides a fascinating insight into life a hundred years ago. It not only reflects health conditions, but also a time before society became aware of political-correctness and certain terminology was deemed acceptable. In the more unusual entries we also get a wonderful sense of post-Edwardian humour, society and family dynamics at this time.
“Researching your family history is a fascinating way to learn about your ancestors. The 1911 census records include detail about occupations, housing arrangements and social status and you are also able to see a copy of the handwritten record itself.”
Audrey Collins, Family History records specialist at The National Archives, said: “The information in the ‘infirmities’ column being released today helps add an extra dimension to the picture of our ancestors’ lives in 1911. We have to remember that the census returns were completed by relatives living in the same house who for the most part had no specialist medical knowledge. Their descriptions provide us with a clue as to how each individual was viewed by other family members, although many would have been reluctant to admit that their relatives suffered from any defect.”
Leading UK family history website findmypast.co.uk (formerly 1837online.com) was the first company to make the complete birth, marriage and death indexes for England & Wales available online in April 2003.
Following the transcription, scanning and indexing of over two million images, the company launched the first website to allow the public easy and fast access to the complete indexes, which until then had only been available on microfiche film in specialist archives and libraries. The launch was instrumental in creating the widespread and growing interest in genealogy seen in the UK today.
Findmypast.co.uk has subsequently digitised many more family history records and now offers access to over 750 million records dating as far back as 1200. This allows family historians and novice genealogists to search for their ancestors among comprehensive collections of military records, census, migration, occupation directories, and current electoral roll data, as well as the original comprehensive birth, marriage and death records.
In November 2006 findmypast.co.uk launched the ancestorsonboard.com microsite in association with The National Archives to publish outbound passenger lists for long-distance voyages departing all British ports between 1890 and 1960.
In April 2007, findmypast.co.uk’s then parent company Title Research Group received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation 2007 in recognition of their achievement.
Findmypast.co.uk was acquired in December 2007 by brightsolid, the company who were awarded The National Archives’ contract to publish online the 1911 census, which it launched in January 2009.
In 2010 in association with The National Archives findmypast.co.uk launched the British Army Service Records 1760 - 1913.
About The National Archives
National Archives is a government department and an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). As the official archive of the UK government and England and Wales, we look after and make available to the public a collection of historical records dating back over 1,000 years, including records as diverse as Domesday Book and MI5 files.
Our 21st-century role is to collect and secure the future of the record, both digital and physical, to preserve it for generations to come, and to make it as accessible as possible. We do this by devising technological solutions to ensure the long-term survival of public records and working to widen access to our collection. The National Archives also advises on information management across government, publishes all UK legislation, manages Crown copyright and supports the wider archive sector. We work to promote and improve access to public sector information and its re-use.