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The Public Records Office (PRO) has shut its popular 1901 Census site because it is unable to cope with demand.

A notice on the PRO Web site claims it is unable to meet continuing levels of demand and has agreed with Qinetiq's technical team (the site developers) to bar access to the site for a week while "enhancements" to take place.

Meanwhile, those interested in tracing their family trees are being advised to adopt tried and tested techniques such as visiting their local libraries and record offices.

The site has been almost permanently crippled since its launch a week ago - despite being upgraded.

The PRO denies that the site's failure and subsequent closure reflects poorly on its ability to tackle major IT projects.

A spokesman told The Register: "We didn't expect this level of demand. We're not embarrassed. But it is a shame. Our concern is to get it working."

The site is designed to cope with around a million users a day but the PRO claims that last week 1.2 million people tried to access the site simultaneously.

Under this kind of pressure it was simply unable to cope with demand from people eager to find out more about their ancestors.

BT - which hosts the site - refutes reports that it forced the PRO to pull the site (warning that failure to do so would put the UK's phone network at risk).

Instead, a spokesman for the telco said that BT had advised the PRO to manage demand by restricting access to the site. He also dismissed reports that the phone network was at risk because of the surge in demand although admitted that some Web services may have been hit.

No one at site developers Qinetiq - the new "science and technology powerhouse formed from the...British Government's elite defence research and development organisation" - was immediately available for comment. ®

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