Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Genealogist's View of the 2011 Census

This afternoon I filled in the 2011 Census forms online for our household and that of my 91 year old mother. The actual census date is 27 March 2011 but you can fill in the information online now and save it, then go back and make any necessary changes on the night of 27 March, before finally pressing Submit.

These are my thoughts on the process, as a citizen and a genealogist:

  • It is much easier to fill in the online form than the paper one, with its daunting 32 pages.
  • The form only asks for one first name but I filled in all our first names, for the sake of future genealogists. The online form only allows a limited number of characters, so I only had room to enter the last initial for my husband, who has three Christian names.
  • The form asks for place of birth at country level only. If you use the paper form there is nothing to stop you writing the actual place of birth next to this box. The information will then be recorded for future researchers. (According to Annie Barnes at Hibbitt Family History, digital copies of the forms will be preserved.) This is quite important if your name is a common one.


  • The question which made me really stop and think was the one about national identity, where you are allowed to tick multiple boxes if you wish:
    • I am a citizen of the United Kingdom and, as a diplomat and civil servant, have served the whole country in my work in Whitehall, at international conferences, and in British Embassies overseas. I see myself as British and would hate to see the break up of the United Kingdom into its component nations.
    • I feel this even more strongly because my ancestry is a mixture of all the different nationalities of these Isles - English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh. When I go to Scotland, in particular, I feel my ties to that country very strongly, having traced my ancestry there back to the 16th century. I never want to have to show a passport at the border.
    • On the other hand, I was born and raised in England, have lived nowhere else in the UK, and I supported England against Scotland in the rugby this afternoon (we won 22-16). I feel that England should enjoy the same autonomy and self-government as the other constituent nations and strongly object to their MPs voting on purely English affairs in Parliament. I also hated the militant "anyone but England" attitude of some Scots during the World Cup. As a result, I feel more English identity and nationalism now than at any previous time of my life.
    • I decided that my recent acquisition of Canadian citizenship, backdated to birth, as one of the generation of Lost Canadians, was a complication too far for this particular exercise.
    • In the end, I ticked both British and English.


  1. Caroline,
    As an Anglo-Scot, I sgree with your comments. What we have in England is taxation without representative since domestic policies can be imposed on by MPs from the devolved countries - higher tuition fees and prescription charges being only the latest examples.
    You might like to consider transporting your blog entry to a website called whatenglandmeanstome.
    Ian Campbell

  2. Hi Caroline,

    I put English on my form as most of my ancestry has turned out to be English with a heavy Gloucestershire bias on my father's side and Devonshire on my mother's. Although my grandfathers were born in Ireland and Wales respectively their own parents were English. I've always felt English and was very pleased when I found my genealogy supported this. I feel we don't have a national identity in the same way that Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland (or Eire, come to that) do but also wouldn't want the UK broken up either.

    Hibbitt Family History

  3. Hope you dont mind me cross posting this on my blog. You really have made me think about the British question. I was about to tick just English. I need to carefully consider this as I am sure this census has hidden political implications. I just don;t know what to think anymore. As a royalist though and her Majesty's loyal Subject I feel sure she would be devastated to see the break up of the Union.

    Hope you are well by the way

  4. I have nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. Read about it here:

  5. Not so sure that we "Northern Irish" have a national identity. More of a "national identity crisis"!