1921 Census Ultimate Guide (Everything you need to know!)

1921 Census Ultimate Guide (Everything you need to know!)

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In mid-June 1921, census enumerators up and down the country distributed millions of census forms to households throughout the United Kingdom.

Householders were asked to provide detailed information about every person living in their home on the night of Sunday 19th June 1921.

Now, 100 years later (and after nearly three years of work digitising it!), the 1921 UK Census is finally available to view online.

This guide will detail everything you need to know about the 1921 census, what it was, what’s so important about it, how to access it online and more.

So let’s dive into this fascinating piece of history!

Was there a UK census in 1921?

Yes, there was a census in the United Kingdom in 1921. The British Isles Census 1921 was a census of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

However, due to industrial unrest, it was postponed from April 24 to June 19 1921. No census was taken in Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence. 

What is the 1921 UK Census?

The 1921 Census of England and Wales is a population census taken in June 1921 that provides a snapshot of the population of the United Kingdom 100 years ago.

Amongst other things, it records the name, age, gender, marital status, occupation and place of birth of every person resident in England and Wales on the night of Sunday, June 19 1921.

The census also includes details about the household – such as the number of rooms in the house and whether the property was owned or rented.

A census is taken for many reasons:

  • to get an accurate population count
  • to understand changes in population over time
  • to study geographical distribution of populations, and more

The information gathered by a census helps inform decision making around public policy and local services – for example, which areas of the country may need schools, hospitals or doctor’s surgeries or how best to provide social welfare.

The long-awaited 1921 census of Wales and England was released on January 6, 2022.

What’s so important about the 1921 Census?

The release of the 1921 census has been highly anticipated and is hugely significant for a few reasons:

  1. It was the first demographic assessment of the terrible human cost of the First World War and it’s impact on the surviving population
  2. The 1931 census was destroyed by fire
  3. The 1941 census was cancelled because of World War 2

As a result, the 1921 census will be the last census released until 2052, when the 1951 census will be released (assuming current privacy laws are followed).

Furthermore, Findmypast, a commercial partner of the UK National Archives, has spent nearly 3 years digitising, transcribing, and indexing the entire 1921 census of England and Wales and made it available on their online platform.

The census is an incredible resource for all historians, family historians and genealogists, and anyone tracing their family tree, both in the UK and abroad.

For these reasons, the release of the 1921 census is hugely significant as it provides a rare glimpse into the early 20th century.

What information is recorded in the 1921 Census? 

The 1921 census contains data on every household, vessel, institution, and overseas residency in England and Wales in 1921, as well as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It documents the names, ages, places of birth and relationships for nearly the entire population in 1921.

Merchant ships in English and Welsh waters are also included, as are all Royal Navy and army ships, and, for the first time, Royal Air Force units stationed overseas.

These overseas sections of the 1921 census filled 47 volumes alone and included the whereabouts of armed forces in countries such as India, Australia and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). [1]

The 1921 census has been digitised and made available online. It includes 18 million colour images with information on nearly 38 million people.

Fun fact: The original census records are contained within 28,000 bound volumes that fill shelves a mile long!

How do I access the 1921 census?

You can access the 1921 census records online at Findmypast. You need to signup for a free account, and then the records are free to search.

However, whilst the census is free to search, viewing any images or transcriptions of the records is only available via a pay-per-view model.

For more information on searching the online records and for details on pricing, see this section further down the post

How can I view the 1921 UK Census for free?

Despite the 1921 census being exclusively available online at Findmypast, it has been made available to view for free at select locations around the UK. These include:

The National Archives at Kew

The digital images of the 1921 Census of England and Wales are available for free in The National Archives’ readings rooms at Kew. These are available to view from January 6 2022.

No readers ticket is necessary to view the records; they are all available to view via on-site computers and tablets. You can also look at them on your own devices, so long as you are connected to the WIFI in the 20sPeople zone.

Note: Only digital images of the 1921 census will be available to view at The National Archives. (The original paper census returns are kept at a secure off-site storage facility for preservation.)

For more information, visit this website

Manchester Central Library

the 1921 UK Census will be accessible for free on all 130 computers at the Manchester Central Library, St Peter’s Square, Manchester. [2]

If you’re not already a member of the library, they recommend simply bringing one form of ID showing your address, and you can join when you visit.

Assistance when viewing the census is also available from the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society helpdesk Team.

Review this article for more information about viewing the 1921 census at Manchester Central Library.

National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

Similarly to the Manchester Central Library, you can view the 1921 census records for free however, you need to register for a reading ticket.

Anyone who is at least 16 years old can apply for a reader’s ticket. Readers may use tickets to access all collections in the library and are valid for three years. To register for a readers ticket, two proofs of identity are required (one must show your current address)

You can register online for a reader’s ticket before your visit. To learn more about reader’s tickets to view the 1921 census, see their website for more information.

What questions were asked in the 1921 Census?

In addition to the basic questions such as name, age, gender, birthplace and relationship to the head of the household, the following questions were asked:

  • Marital status (for people over 15)
  • Whether the parents were still alive (for people under age 15)
  • Nationality
  • Industry, employer’s name, and place of employment (including address)
  • Whether attending school or another educational institution (and if attending part-time or full-time)
  • Number and ages of living biological and stepchildren (under the age of 16)

Each respondent’s age is recorded not only in years but also in months. And the place of birth displays the town or parish and county for those born in the UK and the state, province, country or district for those born elsewhere.

Did you know? The 1921 census was the first census in the United Kingdom to inquire about one’s employment, industry, and whether or not a marriage had been dissolved by divorce.

Furthermore, the census schedules for Wales, Monmouthshire, and the Isle of Man asked whether a person spoke Welsh/Manx, English, or both. Likewise, the armed forces schedule inquired whether the candidate could speak “Gaelic” or Welsh in addition to English. [3]

Questions in the 1921 census that were dropped

From the previous censuses, many questions were dropped. The last census, in 1911, inquired about the number of years of marriage and the number of children.

Parents objected to providing this information about their children, and their responses in that census were deemed untrustworthy. As a result, those questions and questions about whether someone was blind, deaf, or dumb were dropped from the 1921 census.

Is the 1921 UK Census available on Ancestry?

No, the 1921 census can only be viewed online at Findmypast. This is because the National Archive signed an exclusive deal with Findmypast. However, the 1881 and 1911 censuses are available on ancestry.

1911 UK census record (cropped)
An example of a 1911 census record, as digitised and available to view on Findmypast

Why is the 1921 UK Census not available until 2022?

All census records are sealed for 100 years. So the earliest the 1921 census could be released is 2022.

Why are census records sealed for 100 years?

The main reason the UK censuses are sealed for 100 years is for confidentiality.

100 years ago, few people survived to the age of a hundred so keeping them sealed meant that information about almost everyone would be kept private. Although the 1939 National Register for England and Wales is already available, it lacks explicit relationship information.

Did you know? A notable exception to the ‘100 year rule’ was the 1911 census, which was actually released before 100 years had passed. This was because it was discovered that no commitment had been made to the public that it was to be kept confidential for 100 years. So with the medical information redacted, it was released early.

How can I search the 1921 UK Census?

As mentioned, to search the 1921 census record you need to do so either by going to Findmypast directly or visiting one of the three locations around the UK that provide free access to the records.

Below we’ll summarise how to search the online census records yourself through Findmypast:

  1. Sign up for Findmypast
  2. Navigate to the census search on Findmypast to search the 1921 census records
  3. Enter the known data about the ancestor you are looking for (and set any relevant filters)
  4. Click ‘Search’ at the bottom of the page.

On the results page, you have the option to view the transcript of the census record or a view an image of the record itself. Both of these are pay-per-view.

At the time of writing, the Findmypast pay-per-view costs are:

  • £3.50 ($4.90 USD) for a census record image
  • £2.50 ($3.50 USD) for a census record transcript

For up-to-date pricing, see these pages for the Findmypast census UK pricing and US pricing.

Tips when searching the 1921 census

Follow these tips when searching the census:

  • Try multiple selection combinations – For example first name and last name or a first name, an age, a place of residence and two people living in the same house
  • Try searching for name abbreviations – Names such as Chas for Charles, Jas for James, Jno for John, Robt for Robert, Thos for Thomas, and Wm for William
  • Try selecting the “Name Variant” option (checkbox beneath the name fields) if you’re still struggling to find a name match
1921 census search form on Findmypast indicating name variants option
Name variant option helps better identify people due to spelling mistakes or nicknames used in the census

If name searches are ineffective, remember that the Findmypast website provides many filters to search results by district, parish, county registration, and lots more.

Top tip: The sections at the bottom of the page entitled ‘Learn about these records’ and ‘Useful Links and Resources’ are a goldmine of knowledge and assistance when searching the census.

Irish Census Information

Was there an Irish census in 1921? 

There was no Irish census in 1921 but it was resumed in 1926. Up until that point, from 1821 to 1911, the Irish population was counted in a systematic government census every ten years.

According to Section 35 of the Statistics Act of 1993, all census returns from 1926 onwards are closed to the public for 100 years. Researchers will be able to access the 1926 census after 100 years.

What does DED mean on the census?

DED on census records stands for District Electoral Division.

The 1901 and 1911 censuses were conducted by the District Electoral Division (DED), making it difficult to limit the search to a specific district. [4]

A website named The National Archives has online access to the 1901 and 1911 census returns for all 32 counties in Ireland. The website is free to use, and there is no charge to view any content.

These records, including household returns and ancillary documents from the 1901 and 1911 censuses, are a precious part of Irish national heritage and a resource for genealogists, local historians, and other scholars.

All of the original returns are kept at the National Archives of Ireland. The returns are organised by a townland in rural areas and by cities. It is essential to know the street or townland where a person lived and the corresponding District Electoral Division (DED) to locate the record of a specific person of interest.

How far back do Irish census records go?

Millions of Irish records dating back to 1270 can be found on Findmypast, many of which are exclusive to the site. So among the highlights of their Irish record collection are:

  • Irish vital records date back to the 13th century
  • Hundreds of thousands of unique Irish prison registers and court records
  • Griffith’s Valuation in its entirety (a core Irish genealogy record set)
  • Irish land and estate records that are one-of-a-kind
  • Military and insurgency records
  • The most extensive collection of Irish directories available (2 million)
  • Irish genealogy and specialist records that are unrivalled and unique

When were Irish census records destroyed?

Irish census records were destroyed in a fire in June 1922. A massive explosion two days into the Civil War destroyed the Public Records Office attached to Dublin’s Four Courts, along with hundreds of years of documented history.

Some of the records destroyed include:

  • Census records for the entire nineteenth century (dating back to the first in 1821)
  • Chancery records that detail British rule in Ireland dating back to the 14th century
  • Crown land grants
  • Thousands of wills and title deeds
  • Centuries of Church of Ireland parish registers

The list of documents stored in the office’s record and treasury departments is contained in a single 300-page manuscript dating back seven centuries.

For any genealogists or family historians tracing their Irish ancestors, the Irish Genealogy Toolkit website is a wonderful resource. Go check it out!


The 1921 Census is a detailed snapshot of 38 million people in the UK.

Whilst it is only available online at Findmypast, it is available to access for free at 3 locations around the country:

It is an important resource for genealogists and family historians tracing their ancestors and is even more exciting as it will be the last expected census release until 2052, due to the 1931 and 1941 census being respectively destroyed and cancelled.

So get yourself online and start searching today!