The 1921 Census: Welsh language entries and fee-based access

FOI request reference: CAS-82975-F7S2H9
Publication date: March 2022


Now that the results of the 1921 Census are available via Find My Past, I should be grateful if you could let me have the following information in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, together with copies of the relevant extracts:

• In any contract or agreement between the National Archives and Find My Past in respect of the transcription of the Census results, what specific requirements and/or conditions did the National Archives place upon Find My Past to ensure that entries in Welsh on the original forms are transcribed accurately? This includes, but is not confined to, the employment of transcribers with the appropriate Welsh language skills.

• Since the images and transcriptions are available only on payment of a fee to Find My Past (except for the National Library of Wales and Manchester University) for how long does any agreement or contract between the National Archives and Find My Past provide such restricted fee-based access to the 1921 Census material?


Information witheld.


Information concerning the methodology authorised by The National Archives and utilised by Find My Past in the translation of Welsh-language entries of the 1921 Census as documented in the contract between these parties is considered exempt under section 41(1) and 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Information concerning the duration of restricted fee-based access to 1921 Census material as documented in the contract between The National Archives and Find My Past is considered exempt under section 41(1) and 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Advice and assistance

In the interests of providing advice and assistance in accordance with section 16(1) of the FOI Act please find below some contextual information provided by our partners at Findmypast which we hope you will find useful.

The 1921 Census was the first to be conducted following the introduction of the Census Act of 1920. This legislation strictly prohibited the release of personal information by the Registrar-General so, in line with government policy and the promise of confidentiality, the transcription process had to operate under strict security procedures.

To ensure absolute confidentiality of the personal data within the census returns each digital image had to be broken up into segments so that the person transcribing it could not see a whole record or household. This is why you may encounter various spellings of the same surname or street address, because the original documents were transcribed by multiple people without the context of the whole. These segmented images and transcripts were then encrypted and stored securely before being returned to Findmypast just 50 days prior to launch. These regulations and our commitment to publishing all 38 million records on January 6th 2022, meant that our team had a very narrow window in which to decrypt all data and images, match each transcript to the relevant image, and “clean” the data to standardise names, places, and other information.

In order to fulfil our commitment to publishing the census on time and in full, it was agreed with our partners at The National Archives that “clean-up” of the data would be an ongoing process. We want to assure users that this process is already well underway and we are continuously reviewing, cleaning, standardising and enhancing our transcripts to ensure the highest possible degree of accuracy.

Having borne the full cost of conserving, digitising, transcribing and publishing the 1921 Census, Findmypast have been granted a primacy period of up to 36 months, after which The National Archives may license content to any other interested parties.

Access via libraries is likely to open up once the 1921 census is available to them on a subscription model.


Exemptions applied.
Section 41: Information provided in confidence
Section 41 (1) of the Act exempts information if (a) it was obtained by the public authority from any other person (including another public authority), and (b) the disclosure of the information to the public (otherwise than under the Act) by the public authority holding it would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by that or any other person.

In this case the exemption applies because the information was provided by Findmypast under a confidentiality clause which they would expect The National Archives to honour.

Further guidance on the application of this exemption can be found here:

Section 43(2): Commercial interests
This section exempts information form disclosure if such disclosure would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person. In this case, the exemption applies because release would prejudice the commercial interests of both Findmypast and The National Archives.

Section 43(2) is a qualified exemption and we are required to conduct a public interest test when applying any qualified exemption. This means that after it has been decided that the exemption is engaged, the public interest in releasing the information must be considered. If the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in withholding it then the exemption does not apply and the information must be released. In the FOIA there is a presumption that information should be released unless there are compelling reasons to withhold it.

The public interest test has now been concluded and the balance of the public interest has been found to fall in favour of withholding information covered by the section 43(2) exemption.

Considerations in favour of the release of the information included The National Archives’ commitment to openness and transparency in its commercial activities, to allow public scrutiny and to demonstrate that public funds are being used in an efficient and effective way. Furthermore, private sector companies engaging in commercial activities with the public sector must expect some information about those activities to be disclosed.

Considerations against disclosure included the recognition that disclosure is likely to provide information to direct competitors within the market that would create an imbalance and a commercial advantage to those competitors. Furthermore disclosure of this information is also likely to affect The National Archives’ ability to negotiate contracts in the future and consequently generate revenue from non-public funds. It is also considered that disclosure would be likely to deter potential bidders for future contracts from competing and sharing commercially sensitive information with us.

As such, release of this information is seen to prejudice the commercial interests of both Findmypast and The National Archives. This would outweigh any benefits of release. It was therefore decided that the balance of the public interest lies clearly in favour of withholding the material on this occasion.

Further guidance on the application of this exemption cab be found here: