Within fours hours of switch-on at 9am GMT January 2 over one million eager time travellers, many from the USA, attempted to access the 1901 Census site (www.pro.gov.uk) launched by the British government’s Public Records Office.

Result? Gridlock.

Despite doubling the number of available servers, by 1pm most would-be visitors were greeted with the message: “Due to very heavy demand, this site is temporarily unavailable. Please try later.”

This is the first national UK census to be published on the internet, giving amateur historians instant access to 32 million Edwardians, some as eminent as Charlie Chaplin (listed as a ‘music hall artiste’) and the Queen Mother, then just eight months old.

Many site visitors hailed from the USA, eager to trace their British forbears.

Commented project manager Alison Webster: “The census returns are our most popular documents and making them available on the internet means that anyone can access information on their ancestors, the history of their house and their local area, as well as gaining an insight into the social and economic conditions of the time. All this without the trouble and expense of travelling to London.”

Added Webster: “We hope this will be the first of many censuses to be digitised and plan to put the 1891 census returns online.”

News source: MediaGuardian.co.uk