Census release shows DC Thomson ties future to family past

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When the National Census of England and Wales was taken in 1921, the maid was still the first post for newly emancipated British women. For the men returning from the First World War, coal mining was the main occupation.

A century later, this survey of more than 38 million people was finally published online this week, marking the end of a three-year project led by the National Archives and its partner Findmypast, a division of the media company. DC Thomson.

The 1921 census asked people not only their age, occupation and place of residence, but also, for the first time, for details of their employment with companies such as Boots, Cadbury’s, Selfridges, Schweppes and Rolls-Royce. .

Also for the first time, the “divorcee” was an option for marital status. About 16,000 registered as such despite the stigma attached to it at the time.

The census is seen as a very important societal snapshot of a period of economic and social turmoil in the interwar period, especially because the 1931 census was lost in a fire and no census has been completed. was carried out during World War II.

For Findmypast Managing Director Tamsin Todd, the project is also the next step in the development of the already popular UK genealogy market.

Findmypast was one of the fastest growing operations last year for the Scottish media group which is perhaps best known for the Beano comic book, as people used up their time at the home during the pandemic to research family histories.

The 1921 census record shows King George V and his household, including Queen Mary and their four children © Mikael Buck / Find My Past / The National Archives

Todd expects the census release to spark that interest, citing an increase in traffic this week to the website that hosts the database not only from the UK, but from people in the US and Australia as well. eager to reunite with their families.

Todd, who joined Findmypast in 2017, said the past four years have been spent developing technologies and algorithms to turn “the dry and dusty facts of genealogy into stories that people can tell and share and that can enlighten their lives ”.

Censuses are only published online after 100 years. In this case, it was the largest project ever undertaken by the National Archives, with the 38 million records digitally downloaded from 30,000 volumes of original documents. Hundreds of restorers, technicians and transcriptionists worked on building the database.

Online genealogy sites are already popular in the UK and around the world. Blackstone bought the American company Ancestry.com a year ago for almost $ 5 billion.

Findmypast is the second largest division of DC Thomson and generated more money last year than advertising revenue from titles such as Stylist and Puzzler.

According to accounts filed at Christmas, sales increased by nearly a fifth at Findmypast to reach £ 22.2 million for the year ended March 31, 2021. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization increased that doubled to £ 6.8million from £ 2.7million last year.

Findmypast, which has over 13 million registered users, offers a subscription service that allows users to find their family and home. However, it changed that model for the 1921 census: users had to pay for individual records, which angered some historians who argue that a single, searchable subscription would be fairer.

Todd defended the pricing model, saying Findmypast had “invested millions to bring the census online” and needed to get that money back. The fees are shared with the National Archives, she added, which awarded the work to Findmypast after a tender.

Findmypast operates as a stand-alone business, although it is wholly owned by DC Thomson. Todd said she would not speculate on the future of the business as a separate group, saying the Thomson family were “really positive and interested owners.”

She added that its owners are also investing in technology to improve its services. It hired 30 employees to its engineering team last year and plans to grow that team by nearly a third this year.

New products could include combining an archive of newspaper articles dating back to the 1700s with family history data to create a better “picture of the past” for users, she said.

“We believe genealogy can be a much richer experience,” she said. “These can be pretty trivial numbers – birth, marriage, dates of death – and we believe there is an opportunity to help people see the streets their grandfather walked on, where they worked. their great-grandfather and what was going on in the world. “

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