1911 – A breakthrough in technology

Held on the 2nd of April, the 1911 Census saw a breakthrough in technology as machines were used for the first time to help process the census statistics.

Punch card and mechanical sorting were used to process the data collected which speeded up the operation and enabled new and more detailed statistical analyses to be made. The punch card had 36 columns in which the operators recorded the coded information by round holes in numbered positions so that the machine could sort and collate all the cards which were similarly coded.

The new method of processing not only enabled the census results to be provided in much greater statistical detail but also made it possible for the data to be re-sorted to overcome the problems associated with the subsequent, and frequent, realignment of local government boundaries. It allowed the previous practice of publishing the census results in topic-related volumes to be replaced by the presentation of results for each city and county separately.

This method was used up until 1961 when the first computers were used in the process. 100 years on there is another first for Scotland’s Census – you will be able to fill in your census questionnaires online in English and Gaelic.

The personal information from the 2011 Census will be released to family historians only after 100 years has elapsed. Next year the Registrar General will release the personal information from the 1911 Census.

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