Family History and the Census
As someone who is very interested in researching his family, I signed the recent petition asking for the time limit before census are released to be reduced from 100 years to 70 years. Thousands of people signed the on-line petition which was turned down. Other family historians may be interested to read the Government reply sent to each petitioner.
“The Government understands the frustrations this delay can cause, particularly to people who are researching their family history. But these frustrations have to be balanced against the assurances given to people at the time about confidentiality. This also has implications today, for public confidence in the privacy of information which people provide in future censuses.
Clearly, the importance of the personal information provided in the census is that it enables a detailed and accurate picture to be built up of our society. This is of great assistance to Government and to the community as a whole in helping shape policies and set priorities for the future. But unless people believe that the personal data they provide – which includes details of their occupation and who is living with them – will remain confidential and secure as they have been promised, the danger is that they might feel reluctant to give sensitive information.
It is for this reason that there is a policy of a 100-year delay before releasing the personal data in the census. The purpose is to minimise the risk of embarrassment both to those living and to their immediate descendants. The Government does not believe this policy should be altered or the explicit assurances given to people at the time broken.
You might like to know, however, that the 1911 census was not taken under this Act. The census returns are held by the National Archives, not the Office for National Statistics. Plans are underway to set up an on-line search service of the 1911 census by 2009, although again personally sensitive material will not be released until 2011. The National Archives will also respond to certain requests for information on the 1911 census under the Freedom of Information Act. On a sadder note, the 1931 census records were destroyed by fire during the Second World War.
We know this reply will disappoint many people, but hope you will understand that in the long-term, the reasons given are in the best interests of preserving the census for future generations.”