Having done my duty and filled in the 2011 census form last night I got to wondering what future genealogists and family historians would make of our answers to the 2011 census.
It was a useful reminder that we probably shouldn’t try to read too much in the answers that our ancestors left. We scrutinise the census returns for any little clue to the lives of our ancestors, but they were just doing the same as me last night, filling in a form for some government statisticians, struggling to remember details that I couldn’t be bothered to get up and check and hoping that I hadn’t mis-read any of the questions.
Still I couldn’t help but imagine future generations studying my answers intently, trying to piece together my life from those few questions and answers and wondering what sort of picture they will come up with.
Will the fact that I decided to fill in the paper form and not the online version be seen as evidence that I didn’t have a computer or access to internet?
Will they wonder how I managed to take the train to work when I didn’t live near a railway station? Will the figure out that I took a bus to the station? Will they be studying contemporary timetables trying to work out which trains I must have caught? Will they be searching digital archives for photos of the trains that I might have travelled on?
What will they make of the fact that we have gas central heating? Will they ponder on the significance of that fact? Will the Society of Genealogists publish a book in 2111 entitled “My Ancestor had Central Heating” describing the different type of central heating and the significance to your ancestors.
Will they be attending lectures entitled “Black or Blue? What the colour of ink your ancestor used to fill in the 2011 census can tell you about their lives” or “Pen and Paper: Why your ancestor didn’t do it online”?
Although it is fun to wonder what future generations will make of my answers in the 2011 census it is also serves as a warning not to read too much in the answers given by earlier generations. Was that visitor just staying the night or had they been living there for years? Were they welcomed with open arms or tolerated because they had nowhere else to stay? In most case we will probably never know.