Why we're excited about the 2011 census

Not many people get excited about a census, but we do at MyHouseMyStreet, and there's one this year! We see it as a link from what we're doing now back to the first census in the early 1800s.

MyHouseMyStreet uses information from census returns (among other sources) to explore the details of Brighton and Hove's former residents. They remain confidential for 100 years, so the most recent one available is 1911.

That first census looked a lot different from today’s; it’s difficult enough trying to read the old-style script, but some of the collectors also had really bad hand-writing! And then there are the unusual jobs, like 'cordwainer' or 'antigropelos maker'. Look them up!

The reasons for holding the census have been set out by the Office for National Statistics, and they were pretty much the same in 1841. Those first censuses asked far fewer questions, but still gathered valuable information for health and planning purposes.

The new MHMS website will be launched at the time of the 2011 census. It will show how you can make use of census returns (among other sources) to start building a picture of your house, street or neighbourhood across the years. You can get a real sense of what it was like in earlier times by looking at who lived in a street, the jobs they did, how big their families were - and even how many different families lived in one house. Imagine finding that your idyllic country cottage was once occupied by a shepherd, a washerwoman and six children - all in the three original rooms; or that your smart town house was in the middle of an area full of 'laundresses' - a common euphemism for ladies who’d rather not say what they really did!

We’ll have to wait 100 years for this year's information to be released, but when that time comes, someone living in your house or your street in 2111 could find out from your census return on 27 March 2011 that you once lived there with your family, worked or went to school, perhaps just as they do, although they may have to search to discover exactly what an IT Project Manager or a Software Engineer did. Why not leave a photo of yourself and the dog and cat under the stairs? It’ll add life to the census, just as we are doing here.