If trawling through reels of census microfilm in a windowless, airless basement in the old PRO or in a record office, library or family history society isn't your favourite past-time, why not browse through those records in the comfort of your own home?
With the use of personal computers becoming more widespread, the ideal solution to making the census records easily accessible to the general public was to transfer those records from fiche (reduced images of photographed documents) to CD-ROM.
One of the pioneers in this field is S&N Genealogy Supplies/British Data Archive, a UK-based, family-run company.
The CDs are very simple to use. The census images can be viewed using the Adobe Acrobat browser provided with the CDs. They are bookmarked by piece number, and street or area indexes are also provided, enabling the user to locate their particular area of interest and the sub-district or piece number which covers that area. Once images are displayed on your screen, you can zoom in and out, move the image around, and even rotate the image 90 degrees; something that can be useful when printing.
What sets S&N out from the competition is the quality of their products. They use expensive silver microfilm masters which, when scanned in greyscale, give much greater detail. Difficult pages are scanned several times to get the best possible results. If some pages are missing or unreadable on the microfilm, those images are obtained from the PRO and included, where relevant, in their correct position on the CDs.
The census CD sets cover all of the English and Welsh Counties, even if some of those counties are not economically viable.
(Note: The London 1841 census took four months longer than expected but it was well worth the wait as only greyscale images can show the fine pencil marks recorded on the discoloured paper).
To learn more about those products, click here.