I can just imagine the fire that engulfed 50 years of census records now. All that paper with all those people and their lives up in smoke. It’s so sad to know that in Australia between 1971 to 1996 census records were routinely destroyed. All those census forms filled out from a generation of grandparents that my kids will never see. Before that there was no policy to destroy files but generally they were destroyed. I feel optimistic that in the future it won’t be like this though. In 2001, the census asked if people wanted their census data archived and released in 99 years. 54% of people agreed to do that. I would be very happy to have my grandkids find all my information to know more about me. Another piece in the puzzle for their genealogical search.
Census information in Australia was a lot more basic then in the United Kingdom. For example many of the records only record the main householders name and no one else in the house gets any mention. Therefore if you are searching for a specific person, any information of them may not even be recorded. Although the first census was taken in 1828 it was really just to count off the people in the colony and keep track of any convicts. They also served in the early days as a way of knowing whether stores and provisions would be adequate for the colony. Muster rolls were originally taken, however the accuracy of the records and the legality of getting free settlers to come was under scrutiny. Names were only recorded for the 1841, 1891 and 1901 census. However the 1841 records although they do record a couple of basic facts, you can search the person if they were the main householder. However the 1891 census gets harder to search through with no householders names in the index, only districts and sub districts. While the 1901 census is just a collection of census collector cards.
As I am searching a line in New South Wales of Robinsons I decided to see what New South Wales records holds www.records.nsw.gov.au/ . They have two existing census from 1841 and 1891 for NSW. However when looking at the example of the 1841 census, the information is very basic. The head of the household is listed with a signature at the bottom of the page but that can be hard to decipher. Also the information contained covers age group, religion, whether they are free or bonded and their general occupation. With only ticks and groupings it can be hard to work out in a family of three who had what job and without other information it may be hard to sort who was what age. The benefit of the search for me was to narrow down the amount of “John Robinson’s” that were in the index for 1841. To order the John Robinson that fits the details that I have it costs $22 AUD.
The 1891 NSW census is a lot harder to navigate through. To see the actual records that you want you would need to visit the reading rooms for NSW state records. To find the records you need, you would then need to know what district, then sub district that you want to search through. I’m sure that there would be a wealth of information there however for people like me that aren’t based in Sydney it’s a bit of hard task.
Generally in Australia the closest that we can come to having census information is through our electoral roll records. Ancestry website boasts that they have records from between 1903 to 1980 there are around 70 million of these records. They really are a great base for modern genealogical research here. The electoral roll records are a great way of finding the family together and getting a pinpoint of their home and occupations. This is great information to check against vital records that you have.
The next census is in August 2016 and I will be ticking to save my census at the National Archives. Saving a bit of history for the future instead of burning it off like yesterdays rubbish. How do you feel about getting your census saved? Are you worried about your privacy?