Saturday 20 January 2018

Census reveals unusual illnesses

New details from the 1911 census show people listed being bald as an ailment
New details from the 1911 census show people listed being bald as an ailment

The release of a section of the 1911 census relating to illnesses and infirmities has given a revealing insight into how people then viewed their health.

The column, which details descriptions of people's ailments as perceived by the head of the household on the night of Sunday April 2 1911, has remained closed under data protection regulations until now.

The entries, given for the most part by people who would have had no medical knowledge, are often amusing, with some of the more unusual health conditions including "old age", "voteless", "bald" and being "short of cash".

A less politically correct age is apparent in the use of language - with "lunatic" and "imbecile" both occurring in the top five most common ailments, along with "feeble-minded".

In many of the entries individuals' negative attributes are listed, rather than their illnesses.

One record, written by John Underwood from Hastings, East Sussex, describes his children as "quarrelsome", "stubborn", "greedy", "vain" and "noisy" while he records himself as "bad-tempered" and his wife as suffering from a "long tongue". Another unusual entry is from Thomas Wallace Young, who was described as "bald and toothless".

The cause of the suffragettes is also illustrated within the records, with some women listing their infirmities as not having the vote or not being enfranchised. For example, four women living in the same household recorded their infirmities as "voteless, therefore classed with idiots and children".

Others chose to make a note of their good health instead of the health problems the form inquired about, giving answers such as "well", "healthy", "sane", "alright", and even "perfect".

Audrey Collins, family history records specialist at The National Archives, said: "The information in the infirmities column being released today helps add an extra dimension to the picture of our ancestors' lives in 1911."

The infirmities column can be viewed at and, which first launched the 1911 census in 2009 in association with The National Archives.

Press Association

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