Sunday, 7 August 2016


Alexander Daw of Family Tree Fog fame challenged bloggers to a month long series of posts to do with various subjects re family history. Week 1 was suggested as depicting how a census had influenced our research with a great find. I have had quite a few discoveries with the Irish Census, particularly with finding a missing daughter after searching quite a while elsewhere. I went sideways and looked for the siblings of her mother in the 1910 census and found her with her mother's brother's family. They had small children, an older cousin would have been a great help with the younger ones. I decided to go on a different path.

As we go headlong into the 2016 CENSUS in Australia, wrapped in confusion, apprehension and so much discussion, I wondered what it was like during earlier census years. 

The first national census was held in 1911, with future censuses scheduled for every five years. However, world events changed those plans with the beginning of WWI in 1914.

In September 1915... with the First World War well under way, there was a census of an entirely different kind...a War Census. The War Census Act of 1915 was passed.

The government wanted to know just how many males were in Australia with the possibility
of national conscription being mooted.That was not a popular move, it was hard enough with so many young men already signed up and an ever growing casualty list. It was soon extended to cover other details that would have been covered in a general census.

The Prime Minister wrote to all eligible males asking them to enlist, and if not, why wouldn't they?

 These forms were termed WAR CENSUS  PERSONAL CARDS... 
and WAR CENSUS Wealth and Income Card.

As you will see in this blog below, they asked for quite a lot of personal information.

Forms from Qld State Archives Blog

The population was being hounded constantly in the press, many wrote to newspapers to
have their say...

From a distressed father...
Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 - 1954), 
Thursday 27 January 1916, page 5 


The Truth, in Brisbane, called it as it saw it...

Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 - 1954), Sunday 19 March 1916, page 5  TROVE

A partial transcription..

" Lax official methods proverbially pertain to war-time War office methods of administration in 
every country, yet "Truth" doubts if a more scandalous abuse of departmental or departmentally
associated privileges has ever been made than that now practised in Brisbane in regard to the
handling, copying and filing of recruiting census cards. All such cards, as far as the city of
Brisbane is concerned, are received and scrutinised in the recruiting office centre, at the
Kodak buildings in Queen -street, and later are handed over to the scrutiny of voluntary office
workers, who not only eagerly scan their contents, but whose memory of such contents is 
encouraged by the exercise of making duplicates, indexes, and generally completing the work

of a regular card index system."

The article goes on to detail how comments were made about respondents, their physical disabilities,
marital status and all manner of personal information.
The full article can be found at 

Other newspapers shared the opinions of the government and the people.

Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 - 1954), Tuesday 8 February 1916, page 3 


Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 - 1940), Saturday 15 January 1916, page 2

It seemed many people were losing their cards or simply forgetting to fill them in. This must have
frustrated the government no end.

Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 - 1949), Friday 26 May 1916, page 2 

Somehow I feel that this news was greeted with great relief.

Many questions were discussed in the article mentioned above from the Qld State archives.. why were so many different questions included, why did the government need to go off on so many different tangents, why did they feel the need to probe so deeply into the private lives of it's citizens? A hundred years on, I would hope that the security of ordinary citizens' information is deemed to be of greater importance unless released by permission at a given time in the future.

Here we are approaching the 2016 census... with promises of respect for privacy, yet a census serves the wider community in many ways, not just to determine the needs for infrastructure such as transport, roads, schools, hospitals and so on... but also is a great resource for researchers of all kinds, including academics, genealogists and family historians. 

We have the choice of allowing our details kept to be released in 100 years.. for me, that is definitely the option to choose. I would hope that my descendants are able to answer as many questions about me and mine, how we lived and where, as I have been able to discover about my ancestors. Names and dates are important, but even more so to me, is being able to learn the stories of individuals.


  1. Great post Chris! I had no idea about the war Census - wouldn't it be great to get our hands on those forms for our genealogy. I wish!!

  2. Thanks for the info Chris. I knew nothing of these documents.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Pauleen and Jill. I discovered this a while back, but haven't had a chance to expand on it. The Census provided that chance. They certainly would be great to have. I haven't uncovered them as yet. I wonder if they were destroyed, a lot of people would have hoped so.

  4. An interesting post with a different aspect of the Australian census story.

  5. Thank you, Vicki... I appreciate your comment.

  6. Dear Chris - I too didn't know about the War Census - a bit embarrassing as I was working on WWI last year for work. I guess you can't be across everything can you? But I'm so glad you wrote this post because now I know!

  7. Alex, there is no way we can know about everything, that's what TROVE is for, isn't it? There were so many more items, but so little time to gather it all. Another blog perhaps...

  8. Thanks Chris I also had no idea about a War Census you certainly have a talent for finding info

  9. I love to surprise, Helen... who knows what will be next 🤔

  10. Thanks for this post. I had know idea about the war census.

  11. You're welcome, Jennifer. There is always more for us to learn, isn't there.

  12. Very interesting post Chris, I didn't know about these records either. Are they only for Queensland? I wish I had more Queensland family members! I will also allow my records to go public in 100 years.

  13. It was national, Kerryn... I just took Qld as an example as I could get quite a lot on them.
    Good for you, I hope all do. It's certainly not going to affect anyone to have their details released after all that time. Where would we be without Census from Ireland, England, etc. ?

  14. Fascinating I had never heard of the War Census. What department actually took the census? Am I correct in assuming that the aboriginal portion of the census survived but we are not sure if other portions of the census survived. Very intriguing. Thanks for posting

  15. Hi Sandra, I still have so many unanswered questions. I have yet to find proof that any of the actual forms survived. I am still researching it and waiting for answers. As it was cancelled before it was really tested, as there was so much opposition, I would suspect that most were destroyed.
    Once I find out more, and can answer a few more questions, I will post more about it.

  16. Sorry, Sandra, I only answered part of your question... the aboriginal portion has survived or at least that from the Qld State Archives... This is the link to the .pdf


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