1891 Census takers

The 1891 Census was taken on the night of 5/6 April and gives a fine snapshot of society in late Victorian Scotland.

Looking over the 1891 Census report, it is fascinating to compare how our field operations have changed from the days of the Registrar General of the day, Sir Stair Agnew, to how we conduct our census 120 years later.

In 1891 there around 9,000 enumerators and over 1,000 registrars of births, deaths and marriages (who were until the 1960s responsible for organising the census in each area). The census takers (enumerators) collected the questionnaires which the households had completed and copied all the details into the enumeration books which were handed to the local registrars. The local registrars prepared summaries of the number of people in each district which were then sent, together with all the enumeration books, to the Sheriffs of Counties and the chief magistrates of every Burgh in Scotland – who in turn sent them to the Registrar General four weeks after census day. The enumeration books are still preserved in New Register House, and can be seen online at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. But the individual household questionnaires were destroyed many years ago.

With around six months to go until our next census on Sunday 27 March 2011, we now have 22 Census Regional Managers in place and 170 Census District Managers start work next month. Nowadays, they play the part that the registrars did in 1891, responsible for the local organisation and management of the census. From January, 500 team leaders will join us, and help to train around 6,000 enumerators – two-thirds of the 1891 number. www.gro-scotland.gov.uk

It is a remarkable effort to count Scotland’s population today, even with the aid of technology. But in the days before the car and the computer I greatly admire the accuracy and speed of Sir Stair Agnew’s census enumeration. I wonder what he would make of our online questionnaires? In one way, though, he had a much easier job: in 1891, the population of Scotland stood at 4,025,647 – only about three-quarters of the 2011 population which we estimate will be around 5,233,000.

1891 Census report

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