We take data processing for granted, but 100 years ago the idea of using machines to sort, count and generate reports was a very new one. While the technologies used were electro-mechanical rather than electronic, the underlying processes were much the same as we use today and, indeed, some of the companies involved developed to be well-known names in computing in the 21st century.
Why not learn more about this early data processing exercise?
Challenging times have meant a change of pace to all our lives. And, this is also relevant to those of us who volunteer on the Society's Family History Help Desk. Like the rest of the nation the initial lock down in March meant an immediate cessation of all our Help Desk activities and finding new ways to fill our days and new ways of doing things. And, as the days and the weeks have passed this has even meant learning new ways to research our family history!
It may seem a simple matter to collect information in a census. Just ask the questions and analyse the answers. However, life is not that simple. The 1921 census asked a new question about each employed person's place of work. This is not a problem if you work around the corner from your house, but what happens if you ask where a person works and it is in a different town to where they live? How does the system know how to analyse the information? Here's the process which went on behind the scenes.
Sabbath Concerns – the 1921 Census and an advertising slip
On 12 June 1921, The Observer reported: "The Census. Delivery of Schedules. Handsome Advertising Revenue. Distribution of schedules started yesterday, with the enclosed slips explaining that 'where the dates Sunday and Monday, April 24 and 25 occur, Sunday and Monday, June 19 and 20, must be read. The back of this correction slip has been sold to a firm of advertising agents, who are paying £1,000 for the use of each million copies". The sale of this advertising space, while rewarding the Exchequer, caused some concern in Parliament, and a series of questions was asked about tendering for the sale of space, and the outcome in terms of suitability for what could be seen as government endorsement of a product.
The Defence Force was established in April 1921 when the British Government put in place the 'Emergency Powers Act 1920'. This directive was triggered in order to overcome an industrial crisis in the coal mining industry and a threat of civil unrest. The Government was planning to decontrol the mines and railways in 1921. The coal industry was making heavy losses and owners argued that wage cuts were needed. On 1st April 1921 the Miners Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) refused terms of the wage dispute and miners were subsequently 'locked out' of the pits. Their leaders appealed to railwaymen and transport workers for a sympathy strike but on 15 April 1921 they refused and this became known as 'Black Friday'. This resulted in the end of the unions 'Triple Alliance'.
We think of our ancestors homes with only a coal fired stove to cook with and a small fireplace for warmth we may imagine them to be delightful and cosy but few perhaps consider the practicalities of the situation. In winter, there would have been times when it was so cold that ice would form on the inside of the bedroom windows, it may have been impossible to take a bath because the bathroom was so bitterly cold.. Therefore, in 1921 when the miners took decisive strike action against pay cuts it was a disastrous turn of events for everyone.
As family historians Sunday 21 March is probably a date we all have circled on our calendars. This is because we know how important it is to provide information in order to be counted for the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Maybe secretly we are hoping that the information we provide today will be as useful for our descendants as previous census material has been for us.
MANCHESTER & LANCASHIRE FHS was formed in 1964 and is now one of the largest family history societies in the world. Although the Society is united by a common interest in Genealogy and Family History, members also pursue interests in closely related fields.