10 Free Datasets for British Social History

Telling the Stories of Your Ancestors Through Historical Research

A variety of social history resources and electronic datasets can be accessed online for historical research. The social history and science data represented is primarily gathered from census or administrative records, interviews, and social surveys, and is essential for researchers interested in expanding their knowledge of the time and place in which their ancestors lived.

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Histpop: The Online Historical Population Reports Website

Access centuries of online historical British population reports on HistPop hosted by the University of Essex.
© University of Essex

This online resource of almost 200,000 pages from the University of Essex includes of all the published population reports created by the Registrars General and its predecessors for England and Wales and for Scotland for the period 1801–1920, including all Census Reports for the period 1801–1937, along with ancillary documents from The National Archives, essays, and transcriptions of relevant legislation which help to provide context for much of the material in the collection. The wealth of historical data useful for genealogists ranges from census enumerator instructions to classifications of occupations for various census years beginning in 1851.

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London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health Reports 1848-1972

Explore the history of health and medicine in London through this interactive timeline from the Wellcome Library.
© Wellcome Trust

This free website from the Wellcome Library allows you to search more than 5500 Medical Officer of Health (MOH) reports from the Greater London area, including the present-day city of London and 32 London boroughs. The reports provided statistical data about births, deaths and diseases, as well as personal observations about people, diseases, and communities.

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Vision of Britain Through Time

Explore British social history from 1801 through 2001 at A Vision of Britain Through Time
University of Portsmouth

Featuring primarily British maps, A Vision of Britain Through Time includes a great collection of topographic, boundary, and land use maps, to complement statistical trends and historical descriptions drawn from census records, historical gazetteers, the diaries of travel writers, election results, and other records to present a vision of Britain between 1801 and 2001. Don't miss the link to the separate website, Land of Britain, with a much higher level of detail limited to a small area around Brighton.

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Connected Histories

This free online search facility brings together quality content drawn from 22+ major digital resources on the subject of early modern and nineteenth-century British history, 1500–1900. Don't miss the Research Guides for categorized insights into the collection.

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History to Herstory

This rich digital archive offers online access to tens of thousands of original and derivative sources on the lives of women in Yorkshire from 1100 to the present day. Diaries, letters, medical case notes, school exercise books, recipe books and photographs represent women from all classes throughout the written history of the county.

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The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791–1845

The "Old" Statistical Account (1791-99) and the "New" Statistical Account (1834-45) offer rich, detailed parish reports for all of Scotland, covering a wide range of topics ranging from agriculture and trades, to education, religion, and social customs.

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Timelines: Sources from History

 The British Library hosts this online gateway to digital historical collections which provide a glimpse into everyday life from the 1200s through the present day. Resources include handbills, posters, letters, diaries, campaign leaflets, writings, photographs, and more.

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VCH Explore

Founded in 1899 and originally dedicated to Queen Victoria, Victoria County History is written by historians working in counties across England. VCH Explore offers free access to reliable local history materials, produced by academics and volunteers, including photographs, paintings, drawings, maps, text, transcribed documents and audio files. Browse or search materials organized both thematically and by geographical location. 

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Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Search for not only names, but historical social and economic information, in the proceedings of 197,745 criminal trials recounted among the The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, a publication focused on trials that took place at the Old Bailey, London's central criminal court, between 1674 and 1913. Don't miss Publishing History of the Proceedings for information on the type of content you'll encounter during various time periods, plus explore historical and legal information, from How to Read an Old Bailey Trial to historical information on transportation in London.

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House of Commons Parliamentary Papers

Search or browse over 200,000 House of Commons sessional papers from 1715 to the present, with supplementary material back to 1688. The types of statistical information that can be located includes census reports, population data, births, deaths and marriages, judicial statistics, and annual reports on mortality by cause. Examples include the first "Statistical Abstract for the United Kingdom" published in 1854, and the first "Annual Report of the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales" in 1839. This is a ProQuest/Athens database, so is only available with a login through participating institutions worldwide (primarily university libraries).