Correcting the 1901 and 1911

If you’ve noticed an uncharacteristic silence from me over the past while, it’s not that I’ve run out of opinions. Fat chance. No, I’ve just signed a contract with National Archives of Ireland to deal with their backlog of user-submitted corrections to the 1901 and 1911 census transcripts. So I’ve been deep in the entanglements of a decade of emails.

It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. Some of the work can be automated, albeit with lots of convolutions. Inevitably though, a fair amount of squinting at the images is involved.

So here are some preliminary observations from that squinting.

Not in Ireland in 1901 or 1911

The submitters take the process surprisingly seriously. I had expected to find dozens of corrections to ‘M. Mouse’ and ‘D. Duck’ . Not at all. People seem to feel that what appears on the site is in some way a public memory of their family and they just want that memory to be accurate. Many people also want to take the chance to correct the mistakes their ancestors made. On occasion, long-running grievances are discernible – a head of household’s claim to be the father of children disputed vehemently by a submitter, for example. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Whatever appears on the census form – reversed surnames and forenames, forgotten spouses, misspelt occupations, outright lies – is what has to appear in the transcript.

A disproportionate number of corrections come from particular places and classes. Cork people seem especially fussy, as are descendants of members of dissenting sects. Though it’s hardly being fussy to want ‘Independent Rolehash not Connected with any Denommation’ corrected to  ‘Independent Protestant not connected with any denomination’.

My favourites are the mistranscribed occupations. Prawn dealer for ‘piano dealer’, terrace lotto worker for ‘terracotta worker’, sister of the Mr Suline order instead of ‘sister of the Ursuline order’, hawker of Irish  for ‘hawker of fish’.

And straight from Alice in Wonderland: ‘Instire of the Peacly Tea Merchant‘. Which of course should be ‘Justice of the Peace, Tea Merchant’.

Clearly some people get a little obsessed with the corrections – the same emails crop up again and again: You know who you are. Actually I’m one myself. I’m now dealing with my own emails, which feels a bit ironic.

Finally,  some advice if you’re submitting corrections.

Putting the correction in ALL CAPS will not get attention any sooner. Nor will multiple submissions of the same correction. Nor multiple multiple submissions of the same correction. And outrage, though sometimes understandable – ‘They’re all nuns, for God’s sake!‘ – won’t get the changes made.


21 thoughts on “Correcting the 1901 and 1911”

  1. John:

    I’ve been transcribing 1901 census records for nineteen years. See I’m currently working on Co. Donegal. I’m sure I have submitted over 1000 corrections requests to the National Archives. One big problem that won’t be addressed is the misspelling of townland names which is not helpful for anyone looking for ancestors. I would estimate a townland error rate of 15-20% in Co. Donegal. I’m very glad that you will be correcting the submitted corrections.

    Roger McDonnell

  2. Apologies in advance for a few of mine in the beginning where auto-whatever went mad and kept filling in my name and email everywhere it shouldn’t, and it was gone before I realised.

  3. It took me years to find one line of ancestors due to a transcribing error in a surname so correcting errors is vital.
    I feel duty bound to give something back to the Irish state for giving me these censuses and transcripts. Without them, I’d be no further back than my parents’ generation. The census allowed me to get to the beginning of the 19th century with my researches.
    So I often go in and do random reporting – I mooch about looking for obvious misspellings and then I correct them.
    This is the most fantastic free resource. Look after it and give it a bit of a love whenever you can.

  4. Fool plucker (fowl), a 19 year old fairy messenger (dairy), future framer (picture), divisional major hate (magistrate) and living in Portobello Barracks.. the danced warden (barrack warden) not to mention the young girl who by profession provides “general laughter”(farmer’s daughter). When you aren’t staring into space to save your squinting eyes you will have a lovely collection of them to chuckle over.

  5. Thank you for your hard work on this project. Knowing that many townlands’ names are badly mispelled, it is possible to create a page by county, parish, etc. that lists the various spellings over the years for these townlands. Sometimes it is impossible to keeping guessing how the spelling was at a certain point in time and, if the spelling is not exact, the message is no record found.

  6. Delighted to read this post. I have submitted corrections and glad to know they will now be in safe hands. If you need help, let us know ….

  7. This is great news.

    Freely admit to being one of the obsessives who sent in the same corrections in more than once – sorry! Unfortunately I never took note of the corrections I had already sent in, so if I came across a record a second (or third, or fourth … ) time, I just banged in another correction

  8. Good news, John. Did they get the Ancestry people to do the transcribing in the first place?
    I know I’ve submitted some corrections more than once.
    But ten years is a long time to leave things uncorrected,
    and one forgets what one has already sent in.

  9. Great article. I’m also pleased to hear that corrections are made. I was at a dead end with one line until I realised that the witness on a marriage had been transcribed as the bride! How does one get involved in transcribing? I would mind doing some transcribing to help out as it must be a massive job.

  10. Great work. I just checked and some of my submissions were taken on board.

    One suggestion: the transcribers often put a space after the Mc surnames where no space exists. Could they not all be corrected in one go?

Leave a Reply to Wendy Keys Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.