Everybody, welcome to Dan Snow's history, it's census time here in the U.K. I think it's census time in the US as well. That's good.
We need to keep a note of what's going on in these countries. And I've got Dr. Michela Hume. She's a lecturer in public history at Manchester Metropolitan University and she is one of the nation's favorites family stories you've seen on the BBC, various other TV shows and all sorts of places.
She knows her way around historical censuses better than anybody. First census back in 1881. We've now got well over 200 years of these snapshots of our national life there. Fantastic things go. And your sense that everybody vital information in there. Of course, the government providing services to all of us and for our ability to vote, but most importantly of all, to future historians. When I look back a nose around our lives and work out what was going on.
The first sentence was during the great series of wars against France at the end of the 18th, early 19th centuries. If you watch documentaries about those wars, you can do so. History hit TV. It's like Netflix for history. You're going to absolutely love it. You go on there, you pay a little subscription, tiny. You won't even notice it. And then that's your contribution towards creating some of the world's best history. Documentaries were getting better all the time.
Lots of exciting stuff going on. So head over to history TV and get that done. But in the meantime, everybody here is Dr. Michela Hume talking about the census.
Michela, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Thank you very much for having me, Don. I'm a massive fan, so I'm very excited to be here.
Well, I'm a massive fan of yours and I'm also a massive fan of Census's.
What's the plural of Census Cynthy, than this census yet? I mean, I'm a massive presence and in the old days, people look weird. Now, of course, everyone loves them because all the family history stuff that they're an astonishing expression of what we can do to kind of measure everyone in the country like they're incredibly ambitious. So when you go back to it, no one I mean, this must have been a kind of extraordinary idea.
You know what? I'm so excited that you love sunsets because I love the census record and we're quite lucky in our job because we do get excited, don't we?
Quite a lot. We find a new piece of history or uncover something that we didn't know before. But the census record for me as a historian and a genealogist is such a key document because we can extract so much information from it.
And yes, the census record did start in eighty one and it's taken every 10 years. And the first few were just like a head count. So we tend to not use them. Our census records in terms of information really get good from the 1841 census onwards and we can use them for so many things. So when the census record is introduced, our population statistics become more accurate, mortality statistics become more accurate.
So not only can we use them as genealogists and looking into our family history, but also we can really use them for research as historians.
Britain was at war 91, one of the longest and most intense wars in British history. The revolutionary Napoleonic Wars. Was that all connected with the need to try and get a handle on what everyone's doing in a country and work out attacks on them appropriately and all that kind of stuff, and impressing them for military service. Is it connected with war? Yeah.
So it is this drive to sort of understand what's going on in the country now. We use them historians and genealogists for research purposes, but the government uses them for different things. And one of those is to get a sense of who is in the country, what they do for a job, and also what homes are occupied and are unoccupied. So what buildings are occupied are not right.
And you really get a sense of that. Now, the early census records, like I say, they're just a head count. So it really is the government just trying to sort of keep tabs on, OK, how many people are in the country.
And it really is just a head count. But from 1841 onwards, we do get more information. So the government now wants to know more information about where we're from, where we live, what we do for an occupation.
What was the upshot? The first census? Did the government go, huh? I had no idea so many people were living in Manchester like it was really things that changed. Or was it just a fact gathering exercise?
Yeah, it was purely a fact gathering exercise. But we start to see as the census progressed that they want to know different things. So, for example, on the 1841 census, it's very basic. It's just kind of you name the address where you live your age and they round the ages down, which is great for me because I'm in my late thirties. But on the 1841 census, I would have been 35.
So, yes. So they round the ages down. But it's very basic when we start to progress. For example, when we get to the 1851 census and we start going to the 1851 1861, they want to know more things. So they want to know now if you have a disability that's important to them. They also want to know not just, for example, whether you were born in the parish or quote, in foreign parts. They now want to know where you were born, where you're from.
And most interesting for me, I think the real change in the census is the 1911 census, because that gives us so much information. I mean, gives us, for example, how many rooms are in your house for the first time? If you haven't found a photograph of something, you can get a sense of how big was the house that somebody lived in, for example? Also for the first time on the 1911 census, you get to see the person's handwriting, so you get to see their own hand, which is interesting.
Before that, the enumerator would just come round, would have collected in the records and would have made sure that they were filled in, not always accurately, because often literacy rates weren't great in Victorian times.
They they weren't always filled in accurately. But the 1911 census gives us so much information.
It tells us how long people were married. It tells us how many children were born alive, how many children had died. The 1911 census is, for me, the real turning point in terms of extracting information from censuses and ask about what it tells us about people.
Yeah, in a sec, because that's what you do so brilliantly on your podcast and you talk about so wonderfully. But what does it tell us about government? Like, why does the government know all this stuff? Is this show that the government is transforming from a meritocratic clique of dudes who just wish to make war more efficiently into something that cares about. Well, various things, but one of them is the well-being of the people that live on these islands.
Well, due to the nature of the government in the 19th century, don't forget this whole laissez faire taken a step back approach. I would probably say, knowing what I know about the Victorian times, because my hope is how the Victorians bury the dead. So I spent a lot of time looking at mortality statistics, knowing what I know about the Victorians. I would say that the government really didn't start to care about the needs of the people until it affected them, which is we're now moving into the second half of the 19th century and suddenly the middle classes and the aristocrats are worried that they're going to get sick.
So they think, oh, I know, let's start to introduce some reforms. So those lowly working classes that are making us ill will now clean themselves up and we'll get rid of back to back housing and we'll do all these things. So knowing what I know, I'd say the early census records are probably not the government trying to care about the people. I hate to be sceptical, probably not. But the latest census is maybe that drive towards thinking about, okay, where are people living, what sort of homes they're living in, what sort of things they do for occupations and so forth, because it's so interesting.
It comes in at the same sort of time as Ordnance Survey, which for people listening abroad unit survey is the greatest and most wonderful British invention and institution, Bar None. It's the highest quality mapping on planet Earth. It maps every single inch of this country and it even marks pubs on its maps for everyone to go and check out.
Can I just say, that's so funny. Actually, you mention the audience survey because I'm aching today. I am actually doing what's called a trick point challenge where I go and I find all the highest ordnance survey points on my Ordnance Survey map and the real trick points. So yesterday I can discount. So I literally cannot move out of this chair because of the ordinance survey maps.
I'm a massive fan of ordinance that you can join our team any day. If you love Ordnance Survey and Census's Senzai, then you are on team history. And I also should say I live in the new forest of the highest point, namely is about 12 metres tall. So I'm up for a three point challenge any day of the week. OK, so we've got this government that's like increasing an ambition to kind of know everything down and work out what's going on in these islands.
Now, tell me about the people. You've spent years looking at this. What are some of the things that just strike you when you're looking back now over more than 200 years of the census returns? What are the big things? How have we changed and how should we think about the people that lived our forebears? That's a really interesting one.
And there's so many directions we could go with this. I mean, I've been using the census a lot with my students and we've been looking at, for example, people from the Baim community that lived in Manchester at the end of the Victorian period and into the Edwardian period. And I think a lot of people wrongly assume the urban community really grew after Windrush and that's not the case. So the census records, because we know where people came from, we can actually discover, well, our community was more diverse than what we may necessarily think.
So, for example, I've been tracing members of our own community who worked on the docks, who owned inns, who were interpreters. So this gives us an insight because the census lets us know where people are from. We can actually get an insight into how diverse our communities were, for example, previously to what we may have thought, which would have been Windrush. So it's great in that respect. It's also great, for example, the suffragettes use the census brilliantly, absolutely brilliantly as a political protest device.
So they deface the census record of 1911, Emily Davidson, because she wants to make out that she lives in the Palace of Westminster, famously hides in a crypts and gets caught. And they actually put on the census, hid in a crypt in Westminster Hall. They won't put that. She actually resides in the Palace of Westminster. So the suffragettes famously scribble on occupation. Suffragette. I did Michelle Keegan's family tree and her ancestor on the census record put under occupation suffragette.
And the suffragettes were kind of of that opinion where they felt that because they weren't getting the vote, because women didn't matter, that they shouldn't write anything on the census. And don't forget, they could be prosecuted for that. But they did it as a political gesture to the government. So two fingers up to them because they wouldn't give them the vote.
He listed denseness history as we're talking about the census with Dr. McKeyla, who more after this.
Join me. James Rogers. Each week on the history hit World Wars podcast, I meet world leading experts and the veterans who served to get to the bottom of our global conflicts. We're re-examining the stories and the strategies we think we know, as well as those secret and forgotten wars to truly put the world back in the world wars.
But in terms of other forms of protest, I mean, obviously religions recently, people being encouraged to put no religion when that option is necessarily given by the government. Yeah, absolutely.
So religion is actually a good one. There is a separate census, a religious census that just take place in the middle of the 19th century. But religion is quite good because I use this quite a lot, obviously.
I've already mentioned I'm a bit of a sadow, so my point is all about death. So I've been using the census to say, OK, what religion were people? Now, don't forget, the census doesn't actually tell you whether somebody is Roman Catholic or not. You would have to use a religious census for that. So it doesn't give you that sort of information. But it's been interesting for me to look at, for example, using the religious census of 1850, one of if you were a particular religion when you were buried, if you were buried by the states, a pauper, if you were a Roman Catholic, were you buried a Roman Catholic?
And that wasn't always the case. So I use a religious census a lot for things like that. But the census in itself doesn't tell you what religion somebody was for, that you're relying on birth, marriage and death records, or you're going to be relying on the 1851 religious census, which was interesting because it showed that there were more popes in churches, which the government really panicked about. So you'll find that there's a real drive after the Napoleonic Wars finished to like build more churches because they were so concerned with what was happening in France that they felt if they built more churches and people were going to church, that they wouldn't revolt.
So we do see a drive for more churches, that being in the 19th century, isn't it, now that the public is now seen as the dashboard of how healthy a community is?
You know, the measurements of every village of a pub and it's the politicians wringing their hands over the closure of pubs. It's funny, isn't it? OK, so it's about nineteen twenty one. Let's go back a hundred years because we are living through a pandemic and they had just lived through a pandemic in 1921. The survivors had. What do you think the census tells us about. Well, I guess the First World War of course, and the flu pandemic.
Yeah, we are definitely going to see a lot of change in the census. I know already that the census is going to be different from the 1911 census. So we're going to have sections on this census now about education. So the government are now interested to know how educated people are, whether that be part time or full time. We know that some things have disappeared, so I mentioned before about how many children were born alive, how many died, that's now gone.
But we do have things like divorce on now included on that. So have you been divorced? Which will be interesting. We also know, for example, the children under the age of 15, they're going to be asked whether both parents are still alive or whether they've died. In other words, is that child an orphan?
And we know that for the first time as well. The R.A.F. units that are stationed abroad are now going to be included on the census. I am expecting a lot of change on the census. For example, in 1918, women have gone some way to getting the vote. So I'm not expecting that we're going to have any suffragette defacing the census on the nineteen twenty one. But I expect to see a lot of widows and I'm expecting to see families that maybe on the 1911 census are fragmented by the nineteen twenty one due to the pandemic and obviously due to the First World War, I'm expecting that possibly we're going to see more women in employment.
We know that women didn't tend to stay in employment after the First World War. They tended to go back to doing what they were doing before. But maybe we are going to see more women in employment. A census is still useful now that we have all these other ways of gathering information, sociology, gigantic serving data, is there something still unique about a census and do they have a future?
I think they're definitely unique and I think that they do have a future. It's very difficult, isn't it? We're quite lucky that we still get to research and define records in a time where people still wrote things down on paper. My concern going forward is that obviously and I give my students a letter from the 19th century and they're like, oh, because they're not used to the handwriting, everything's on a computer. And once that computer goes, then we've lost that record sort of thing in the present censuses, I think will be useful because it's going to give us information that maybe necessarily we wouldn't ask.
And it's all on one document. It's quite personal information, isn't it, that we wouldn't ask. Now, I don't know how the government uses census records. I don't know if they use it for policy in the present. One would imagine they probably do, but definitely this 100 year closure on the census historians 100 years from now, I think we'll find the census really, really useful. And don't forget, the census we're filling in now has changed again for the first time.
For example, the LGBT community are going to be featured on the census. It's not just are you married or divorced or whatever. So it's been more inclusive. And I think in 100 years from now, it's going to give people just a sense of what it's like to live in 2020 one last time.
A bit of a political question. We'll come back to individuals. Are they a bit of a battlefield? And if they are in the US because they're about voting rights or about constituency sizes, I mean, censuses are a kind of critical part of a functioning democracy as well.
Yeah, absolutely. And boundaries change all the time, especially so in the period that I study. I think they're definitely they're going to be used for that. It may be that we changed the way we vote because of this. I don't know, to be honest. I'm not quite sure how they're going to use it in terms of the present, but no doubt they'll use it for something.
But headcount important in a democracy. Since I was a kid, no one ever had a kind of historical census. But now everyone's on them all the time because of family history. So they're all searchable online, I guess. And your grandparents, great grandparents, they're all there, right?
Oh, it's brilliant. So literally, if you can find your ancestor on the 1911 census, you can more or less go back to eighteen forty one. You're quite lucky because snow is quite unusual name. Obviously you struggle more if it's a Smith or an evidence or Jones, but you can go back to 1841. The 1921 census won't come out until January 20 22 because there's this hundred year closure. The 1931 census got destroyed by fire. So we're not going to have anything for that.
It wasn't taken in 1940 Wonk's. Obviously, we've got the war, so there is a bit of a gap. So it'll be the 1921 and in the nineteen fifty one we do have something in between called the 1939 register, which was taken on the eve of the war to find out what everyone's doing and where everyone is. But yeah, this census record I think is going to be really important. And like you say, you can find your own sister in 1911 is erm really easy to go back, not just people.
I use it to search buildings, to search places. I do address searches now. Yes, they are online, the census records, but a lot of the major providers it was cost. But for most people, if you've got a library card when libraries are back open, you can go into your local library and you can search them for free because they pay for the database. So they are accessible, you can sit in your living room and watch you on the television and go all the way back 100 years just from your living rooms.
Fascinating stuff. What about you? Go on, tell me about how far back have you gone? Is that what you say in your far back?
Are you going, oh, you're so down with the kids. Yes. So I've gone pretty far back, I think have gone back to seventeen hundred and something it was kind of one of those that you start doing yours and then you go back so far and then everybody else goes on like, you know, your neighbor down the road, oh, can you just help me out Demitry.
And then you kind of put yours to one side when you hit a bit of a brick wall and then do everybody else's and then forget to go back to yourself. At some point I shall go back and revisit mine. Brilliant.
Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Talk about the importance of the census. We should fill us in. Let's be good citizens because we want to make sure our descendants can check out what we are up to. Tel Wishfulness.
Yeah, you can fill in because you are a good citizen like Dan or you can fill in because they'll be nosy people like me in a hundred years from now that will want to know everything about you.
So please fill it in just for historians and genealogists 100 years from now. Historians, people gossip about dead people, right? Thank you so much. You start and make sure you fill in a sense, everyone, how could people find out more about you and your podcast and everything that would.
Great. Yes. If you want to find out more about me, you can check out my website, Twitter, Mickleham Dotcom or I am on Social, which is McKeyla underscore you brain and you've got so much going on, I'd strongly advise you to do that.
Everybody. Thanks, counterparts.
Thank you for helping create this part of the history of our country. Paul. Hope you enjoy the podcast just before you go a bit of a favor to ask. Totally understand. If you don't become a subscriber or pay me any cash, money makes sense. But if you could just do me a favor, it's for free. Go to iTunes or have you get your podcast. If you give it a five star rating and give it an absolutely glowing review, perjure yourself, give it a glowing review.
Really appreciate that stuff. Well, the law of the jungle out there and I need all the support I can get, so that will boost it up the charts. It's so tiresome. But if you do, I'd be very, very grateful. Thank you.
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