Christmas is Ireland is deeply peculiar. By mid-December collective hibernation hysteria has gripped us all and we are compelled to stockpile food as if the world were about to end on Christmas Eve. On that day, we enter the family cave, roll a giant stone across the entrance and wait a solid ten days until it’s safe to come out again, with only our family and our mounds of decaying food for company.
So the annual Christmas hibernation is a good time to get stuck into a nice big project: a giant jigsaw, a marathon game of Risk, knitting a giant woolly jumper … Or mapping all the heads of household in the 1911 census of Ireland.
With data from the National Archives census site, I’ve just plotted the location of all the 3500 strange areas used for the census, District Electoral Divisions (giant jigsaw), counted the number of heads of household of every surname in each DED (marathon game of Risk) and mapped the two onto a Google map (giant woolly jumper). For a sample of what I’ve ended up with, have a look at the Lavins.
The results are useful in a number of ways. Most simply, it is much easier to grasp geographic distributions when they can be visualised and not just read. But there are many other uses – seeing the variant spellings that appear in the census, working out how the traditional homelands have shifted in the half-century since Griffith’s, catching outliers in places you mightn’t expect …
Of course there are caveats.
The way I worked out the locations of the DEDs was by identifying the latitude and longitude of a townland or street in each District, as recorded in the 1901 Townlands Index. This means that any changes between 1901 and 1911 aren’t captured and also that the point chosen on the map could be well away from the District’s centre, especially true for urban areas. And for those urban areas, the NAI transcript’s naming is truly weird. “Clifton”, “Clifton Ward” and “Clifton, Belfast Urban No. 2” are different versions of the same DED in Belfast. “Inn’s Quay”, “Inns Quay” and “Inn’s Quay (part of)” all cover the one Dublin DED. I’ve tried just to reproduce what NAI did, but be warned: at times I was utterly boggled.
There are also problems with the surnames. Over 10,000 heads of household (out of a total of 900,000) have surnames I don’t already have listed. The vast majority are certainly mis-transcriptions, but there also real names in there. George Zuorro, an Italian ice-cream seller in Belfast, is just one. Sorting out the real from the mis-transcripts is a big project in itself.
Maybe over the Easter hibernation.