I just don’t want to pay that price any more

When people complain to me about transcription errors in our shiny new databases, I try to reassure them: “Notch your scepticism up to 11, come at the records from as many angles as possible and always remember that these errors are the price you pay for having the databases in the first place.”

Going through the National Archives online Tithe Books collection over the past week, I repeated that advice to myself over and over, but it didn’t work. I just don’t want to pay that price any more.

I ain’t gonna pay that price no more

As a source, the Books’ main virtue is that they exist. If we had the censuses destroyed in 1922, they’d be a quirky footnote, a textbook example of blinkered Irish sectarianism shooting itself in the foot. Supporting your clergy by imposing a tax on near-destitute members of a rival church was hardly a recipe for inter-faith harmony.

But they are now virtually the only census substitutes for most places in the 1820s and 1830s, and the NAI online collection is the only route of access. And it’s god-awful.

First, the quality of the personal name and place name transcriptions is only wojus. In a single parish, Knock in Mayo, I’ve counted at least ten mistakes for the surname Flatley: Flattey, Hattley, Halley, Hattely, Hatley, Huttley, Slatterly, Slattery, Thally, and Harley.

Flattey, Hattley, Halley, Hattely, Hatley, Huttley, Slatterly, Slattery, Thally, Harley. And Flatley

OK, but at least we can use the online images as if we were at a microfilm reader and just ignore the database?

No. The parish names are jumbled up so badly, it’s impossible to be sure what images you’re looking at. To take Carlow alone, the link for Aghade takes you to Aghada (Kerry), Clonmelsh to Clonmult (Cork), Lorum to Loughbraccan (Meath), Painestown (Carlow) to Painstown (Meath) … And the online correction facility provides no way of pointing out gross navigational problems like these.

Then last week, while wandering idly through the FamilySearch online catalogue, I came across the listing for the original microfilm collection on which the NAI site is based.  The layout makes it clear that the originals were organised into 140 bundles alphabetised by parish name. So bundle #1 ran from Abbey to Aghaboy and bundle #140 from Wallstown to Youghalarra. (and incidentally bundle #45 Drung to Duncormick was never microfilmed at all and so is just not digitised).

All the mistaken parish identifications are there on FamilySearch too, but seeing the original microfilms laid out like this makes it possible to burrow down to the actual start point of each tithe book. I’ve done it for Carlow (here), but with the results linked to FamilySearch rather than NAI. For one thing, the FamilySearch online microfilm reader has previous/next links, praised be the Saints. For another, where there are database transcripts, they appear below the images, providing (limited) help in deciphering.

There’s a lot more work to be done to make the other 25 counties actually useable. I don’t think anyone else is going to do it.

20 thoughts on “I just don’t want to pay that price any more”

  1. You crack me up. 🙂

    I am sure the Family Search microfilm with the previous/next choices were a blessing.
    Thanks for all your hard work in simplifying for the family of researchers/genealogists research tools. Saves us a lot of headache.

    Does that make sense?

  2. Thanks John. I feel better hearing this from an expert! I am so lost and confused 🤔most of the time that I close the books, shut down the computer, and start cleaning out junk drawers! 😳 I hate that job! But there are times when it is relaxing! Lol. 😀

  3. I was looking for John Melody in the Tithe Applotments last week for Grange, Galway and found it in Limerick. I didn’t realize it was a more wide-spread issue.

  4. Thanks for this, John. It’s good to know that Family Search has the originals. It’s a lot easier to try to verify/confirm surnames with the originals. Incidentally, the writing is not too difficult to read either!

  5. I was busy searching the TAB on the NAtional Archives site for a family in Kinneigh / Kinneagh in County Cork with no luck. I eventually found them under Kinneagh, County Carlow. Just another example of their inaccuracies. One of those situations where local knowledge was another source to draw on having lived near both Kinneaghs.

  6. However hard it might be for someone reared in Ireland used to Irish place names, it must be a real nightmare for those of Irish ancestry reared outside of Ireland to get a handle on the Tithe Books. Nice article John, well done.

  7. My grandmother Peg Ryan had the perfect answer to quandaries like this … “just go put the kettle on, sure it could be worse … ” 😂

  8. Thank you for this insight, John. I didn’t realise they were so difficult to navigate! They were on my ‘to do’ list, but have now been relegated to a lower priority, until I can muster up some additional brain power!

  9. On the case of Knock I imagine part of reason for that is the parish would have been majority Irish speaking in the 1830’s (as was all of Mayo) — as result what we could be seeing is multiple different angliscations used by different households, only later did they assimilate to one standard angliscation etc.

  10. There are lots of pages that are duplicates and some that appear to have the same person and section of land in two pieces. It’s not limited to tithe books thouogh. I looking at the will index for the diocese of Armagh I find a possible ancestor of mine in a townland that just doesn’t match the known spelling of any townland in Ireland. Also in The Carrickedmond church records poor Pat McGarrell and McGarl are either one person or Catherine Allen was a bigamist. That’s actually good news for me because that makes it likely that either spelling might be an ancestor. I guess we’re doomed to frustration. But I appreciate all the work that has gone into making records more readily available and also organizing them

  11. Yes, indeed. In the Tithe Applotment records. Killallaghtan civil parish in Co Gawlay actually appears under Co. Mayo. That error lies in the original books, as I learned at family search.

  12. Seems like arbitrary spellings and appalling transcriptions are everywhere in historical records. Wonder what folks will think of us in 200 years . . .

    (By the way, I don’t believe the defensive gentleman in the photo is Popcorn Sutton–looks a little large and way too healthy.)

  13. Yes when looking for Kindelan ancestors in Cavan I found Laraweehan (Lauravane) in Drumgoon County Cavan is indexed as Drumgooland County Down. Still not corrected despite me telling NAI and Familysearch numerous times

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