Teachers' Notes
Using the Greenfield Road census database activities

See also Getting the most from census data in the History Section of Curriculum Support.

Before using these tasks with children there are some preliminary activities that it would be wise to undertake.

  • Children should have an understanding of the nature of information gathering, storage and retrieval.
  1. They should have had experience of gathering information from a range of sources
  2. They should have had experience of sorting and classifying information
  3. They should have had experience of entering and storing information in a database
  4. They should have had experience of retrieving information
  5. They should have had experience of interpreting, analysing and checking information
  • Print off a few records to give to children so that they can become familiar with the structure of the database and the nature of information stored.
  • Discuss the vocabulary and syntax of the data so that children will find searching more fruitful. They will quickly become frustrated if they are searching the correct fields but are unable to make use of possible alternative keywords.
  • Ensure the children are aware that the information has been collected over a period of sixty years. The structure of the census form was necessarily refined over the time span as the need for different information was identified. Thus in the early forms Place of birth was recorded as Staffordshire or Not Staffordshire. As information became more detailed an additional field was been added asking for Country/County of birth. Sometimes children may need to search on both these fields to find the answers.
  • Where questions require that data is sorted by size, for example "What is the first name of the youngest servant?" Children will need to devise strategies to find the answer.

It is not necessary to search on both fields at once - the search can be refined. So they might choose to

  1. Search on Occupation for servant
  2. Show results as Age

This brings up a list of ages of servants. (The number in parentheses refers to the record number in the database.) By glancing through this children can find the youngest. It is worth pointing out that these records will not be displayed in ascending or descending order, but by the census year.

Now they must refine the search.

  1. Search on Occupation for servant
  2. Search on Age for 13
  1. Show results as First name

Alternatively they may devise a different strategy. This should not be discouraged as discussion can lead to children making decisions about the comparative efficiency of different searches.

The files used to create the database activity are available for you to download.

If you download the data and import it to Excel you will be able to create your own tasks, which may be more suited to History teaching and learning in your classroom, and make use of some of the more sophisticated features of the program. Separate files are available for each year from 1841 to 1891 as well as a file that combines all of these.

Unit 12 of the QCA Scheme of work for History at Key Stages 1 & 2, How did life change in our locality in Victorian times? suggests that children use census returns and databases for their local area. Comparisons could be made between entries for Birmingham in the Greenfield Road database, and your local census returns. This could be particularly fruitful if your local area is more rural. Differences in occupations will be noticeable, but what similarities are to be found?

As the records in the database were all made by hand they are subject to human error, and you may find spelling or other mistakes therein. I could excuse this by making reference to the QCA Scheme of Work for ICT Unit 5C Evaluating information, checking accuracy and questioning plausibility, however this would be disingenuous, and for any errors I apologise.