1971 – Security Review

The plans for the 1971 Census were the most ambitious to date. The development of computer processing unlocked significant increases in the volume and detail of output. Because of public concern about the privacy of data held on computers, the British Computer Society (BCS) offered to carry out an independent review of IT arrangements shortly after the 1971 Census. This was agreed and the BCS was invited back to carry out similar reviews before the 1981 and 1991 censuses.

Similarly for the 2011 census, Scotland’s Registrar General has assured the public that this count is set to be the most secure in the country’s history, with one of the UK’s leading independent auditors commissioned to review our security arrangements.


1961 – Another first for the Census

The 1961 census was the first to use computers to count census information.

The modern system used today to collate census information is a very intelligent computer which scans every page and automatically reads handwriting converting it into computer data, before sorting the information based on what it finds.

However, in 1961 the process was quite different. The results were still processed manually by workers, who first read the form and then typed the information onto punched cards before feeding these into massive machines that would read the information and find any errors. These results were later put onto a huge magnetic drum for printing.

The collation of Scotland’s Census data in 2011 will see another first as Scotland’s householders will be able to complete census questionnaires online. Sophisticated data capture technology will also be used to scan and process returned questionnaires. The online questionnaire is protected by robust security arrangements based on tried and trusted technology which will ensure that everyone’s census records remains private for 100 years after the census.

1951 – The first census in 20 years

Due to World War Two (WWII) there had been an interval of twenty years since the previous census in Scotland; a period which had seen significant legislative and social changes across the country.

For the 1951 census, almost all the questions that had been asked in the 1921 and 1931 Censuses were included again, plus new questions to identify full and part-time employment and the age at which full-time education was completed. New questions about the exclusive or shared use of household amenities were also included in an attempt to assess and improve the quality of post-war housing.

During the post-WWII baby boom, the 1951 Census showed that the largest age group was that of 0-4 year old children. By 2001 Scotland’s population was living longer than ever before: the number of over 85s had more than doubled, whilst the number of 0-4 yr olds had almost halved. The population of Scotland is expected to carry on ageing. GROS estimates that by 2031 the number of children under 16 will decrease by 7%, but the number of people over 60 will increase by 54%.

1941 The Missing link

Preparations for taking the 1941 Census were interrupted by the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939 and the census never went ahead. The National Registration Act 1939, which set up a national register for the issue of identity cards, authorised the Registrars General to compile the register using the administrative machinery already being prepared for the census. But the new registration recorded far less information than the census – simply name, address, sex, marital status, age and occupation. Some statistics from the 1939 register were published in 1944, but they were not comparable with those from previous censuses.

1931 – The ‘wireless’

In 1931, public broadcasts via the medium of the new-fangled ‘wireless’ were used to publicise the census. The importance of using the press in the 1921 Census to explain the purpose of the census had been recognised, but the development of radio broadcasting made it possible to give out, orally and nationally, a wide range of information.

The BBC arranged six weekly talks entitled ‘Numbering the people’ prior to Census Day on 26 April. The series concluded with a broadcast on census night which gave advice about how to fill in the census form. Without doubt, they played a valuable part in educating the public and encouraging them to participate.

With the co-operation of the education department and local education authorities and teachers, arrangements were also made for giving lessons on the census in schools in 1931.

The 2011 Census continues the tradition of using media, some 80 years since the public broadcasts started. Today we are writing blogs, creating public assistance websites and will be advertising our census via television and YouTube. You will of course also still hear us promoting Scotland’s Census on the ‘wireless’.

1921 – Men outnumbered.

On 19th June 1921, Scotland’s 13th Census was held – much later than the original planned date of 24th April due to extensive industrial unrest after the first world war.

The effects of the war are apparent straight away when looking at the population of Scotland at this time. Following the war, the 1921 census showed that women significantly outnumbered men by 1080 to 1000 with 187,213 more Scottish women.

Find out more about the history of the census including facts and figures from this period to the current day in our census timeline

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.

1901 Census Edwardian era

Scotland’s 1901 census was held on the 31 March at the start of the Edwardian era and just two months after the death of Queen Victoria.

The 1901 Census asked new questions about home and work including how many rooms were in a household or whether the person was employed, an employer or self employed. The addition of these questions gives us a broader view of work and family life at that time.

The census marked the end of a period of rapid population growth. In the century from 1801 (the first official census) the population almost trebled, from 1.6 million in 1801 to 4.5 million in 1901. By contrast, population growth in the 20th century was a much more gradual 0.5 million, to a population of just over 5 million in the 2001 Census.

Another interesting finding from the 1901 Census is that there were only 14 men aged between 15 and 65 from Africa and merely 290 Americans. Scotland’s population is far more diverse today. The 2001 Census showed that around 3% of Scotland’s population were from an ethnic group other than white British.

The individual 1901 Census records were published online in 2001 and the General Register Office for Scotland used new imaging technology to scan the census returns collected in 1901 through the Digital Imaging the Genealogical Records of the people of Scotland (DIGROS) project.

Images of the 1901 Census pages are linked to an index of over four million individual names on www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk – a fantastic tool for people tracing their family heritage.

1901 Census

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

1881 – Cunntas-sluaigh na h-Alba

For more than 120 years, the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) has used the census to ask the people of Scotland about their Gaelic ability – and 2011 is no exception.

Sir Stair Agnew, the Registrar General of the time, oversaw the introduction of the first Gaelic language question in the 1881 Census. The census found that there were 231,594 Gaelic speakers in Scotland which equated to 6.2 per cent of the population. But the question was added to the census at the last minute, by overprinting the census forms. The evidence from the census strengthened the demand for more time to be allocated to the teaching of Gaelic in Scottish schools, and a grant became available shortly afterwards for the purpose.

The last census, in 2001, showed that over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under two per cent of the population) had some Gaelic language ability. Almost half of these people lived in the Eilean Siar, Highland and Argyll & Bute Council areas.

In the next census, the first to be held since the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, I am delighted that the people of Scotland will have the option to fill in their household questionnaire online in Gaelic or English. This marks another first for the Gaelic language.

With just seven months to go, we are now in the process of starting to recruit and train around 7,000 field staff and arranging to print and distribute around two million questionnaires. It is going to be a very busy time ahead with work on the ground and behind the scenes to ensure that everyone can be included on the questionnaire.