Wiganers reminded of historical importance of census
The once-in-a-decade survey of the population and households run by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) takes place this weekend.
The information helps local authorities and the government make decisions about crucial public services but is also a snapshot of life in 2021 which will be of interest to historians for decades to come.
Census Day is on Sunday March 21 and the ONS is lighting up more than 100 buildings and landmarks purple, with Leigh Town Hall chosen as the local site.
Wigan Council’s archives and local studies lead officer Alex Miller said the census was a vital tool for those studying the past as it allows them to delve back through time to find out how people lived at points in history.
He said: “Census records are the bread and butter for anyone tracing their family trees back through the generations.
“Expert volunteers at Wigan Family and Local History Society and Leigh Family History Society have done some amazing work in supporting local residents in their research, as well as those from further afield.
“If you’re trying to trace the history of your house, skipping back through the census returns will show you who lived there in the past and how the area changed.”
The first official census to record names of all individuals in a household or institution came in 1841 but Wigan borough’s archives team has uncovered documents that date as far back as 1765.
Mr Miller said: “Census’ from 1801 to 1831 were largely simple headcounts but one fascinating document from around 1811 does appear to show the first census of the borough’s population.
“It took place just as the town was on the brink of transformation into an industrial centre, though only names and few occupations were recorded.”
These records are now helping people trace their ancestors and discover new information about their family tree.
The census is also continuing to change to adapt to the ever-shifting societies in which it takes place, with this year’s being the first to have a digital-first approach.
Residents have received a 16-character access code which they will enter into the website to begin filling in their household details.
However, for those who are not online or are not confident with technology support services are available and paper forms can be requested.
Wigan’s census engagement manager Lauren Mullen, from Hindley Green, has been talking to community organisations to spread the word about what people need to do and why filling in the census is so important.
Coun Chris Ready, cabinet member for communities and neighbourhoods at Wigan Council, explained the value of the documents for understanding the past, present and future alike.
Coun Ready said: “The census is a snapshot on a particular day, once a decade, but that information has gradually become more and more detailed, recording occupations, addresses, ages and places of employment.
“All this information is invaluable to our local communities and historians who want to go back through time to see how our borough and its residents have evolved over time.
“Furthermore, it is invaluable in helping authorities plan and deliver the important local services that matter most to our communities today. I would really encourage everyone to make sure they take part.”
There is also information being sought for the first time this year, with questions for the armed forces community and for LGBTQ+ residents.
Those who do not wish to share details of their sexual preferences on the household documents can also request an individual census which will take precedence when the ONS considers the data.
Leigh Town Hall will be illuminated in purple as part of the national switch-on initiative at 20.21 on Friday. It will then remained lit up until the day of the census itself, Wigan Council confirmed.
The ONS has also created 22 purple plaques to mark the census honouring unsung community heroes for their contributions to their local areas.
Census Day is Sunday, March 21. Find out more at www.census.gov.uk or by ringing the support centre on 0800 141 2021.
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