Census-correcting

The first batch of 1901 and 1911 census corrections, all 15,962 of them, went live on census.nationalarchives.ie on Thursday last and great sighs of relief were breathed all round. Well, by me anyway.

For the past two months I’ve been working my way back through the user-submitted emails, checking them against the images and separating them into saints and sinners. At the same time, along with NAI’s IT staff and developers, I was working on getting the validated corrections live, a more complex operation than you’d imagine. Because the census data is static, it makes perfect sense to have the live version as a set of indexes rather than a transactional database – no moving parts, so much more stable, as well as faster to search.

Moving parts

That means, in order to add or change anything, the indexes have to be rebuilt from scratch. Not impossibly complex to do (he said, not having done it himself) but not something you’d want to be doing every day either. In the tables of personal information alone, there are approximately 10 million records, each with twenty items of data. Turning all of those into a static index produces almost 200 million index entries.  So carefully does it.

Those 15,962 represent all emails received between October 25 2016 and September 11 this year, the date I started. If you submitted between those dates, your correction should now be live, provided I agreed that it was accurate. If you don’t see it, have another go and make me look again. And of course I’ve made my own mistakes , slated for correction the next time round. The aim now is to have a regular monthly batch update.

In the course of working eyeball-to-eyeball with the emails it’s hard not feel I’m getting to know the submitters. Some people seem to be swept away by the urge to correct. Having found a mistake in their own family, they just can’t stop: suddenly it’s four in the morning and they’ve sent off a hundred emails. Others, by the look of their email addresses, are spending most of their work day actually correcting the census. Tut tut. And I feel for the poor soul who discovered that his ancestors had recorded their religion as Baptist and retrospectively converted them to Presbyterianism.

East Galway. Where they send the same email more than once

One enterprising crowd in east Galway seem to have got together with the aim of completely correcting every single entry for the area. Good for them. Except that part of their agreed procedure appears to have been to send each correction at least three times. Just to be sure. Thereby ensuring it takes at least three times as long for the corrections to be validated. Grrr.

Another group I can’t help empathising with are the transcribers. What a strange and wonderful place early twentieth-century Ireland must have seemed to them, a land where people had jobs as coco drivers, boot owners, professors of surging, pork rangers, where children could be sixty years older than their parents and gender-roles were so fluid you would commonly find mothers-in-law who were male labourers aged 30. It feels a shame to be erasing that parallel Ireland.

Eoin MacNeill. Garlic would have improved his disposition.

Wouldn’t we all live in a much more interesting place if Eoin MacNeill really had been the secretary of The Garlic League?

25 thoughts on “Census-correcting”

  1. The last comment about the “secretary of the Garlic League” really gave me a chuckle — a true laugh out loud. Always love your posts both for the knowledge and the sense of humor. Thanks.

    1. To be fair to the transcriber in this case, it was unclear, and unless he or she had Irish connections, could be forgiven for this error. Indeed should be congratulated for relieving the tedium of research.

  2. Well you sprung the trap with the moving parts illustration. You knew that suckers like me would just have to check the rotation directional arrows. And goes slightly bonkers on the last cog. Did you draw that arrow on purpose? Wait, it is John Grenham. Of course he would draw a reversed direction arrow just to see how many nibbles he would get. Well, nibble nibble.

  3. Thanks John.
    I think I was probably one of the repeat offenders – never bothered to keep a record of the ones I sent in.

    Sorry!

  4. Dear John,
    Just yesterday, I found a 1911 census which listed the street name as David Street instead of Davis Street in Tipperary, Co. Tipperary, as it was on the 1901 census. There was no where I could send in a correction.
    http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Tipperary/Tipperary_E__Urban/David_Street__P
    I checked Google Maps and Davis Street came up. If you look at Form N, it says Davis Street. All the people living on that street will be found under DAVID Street.
    Cathy

  5. I found a choice mis-transcription in the English 1911 census : Charwoman of the Board…
    And Scotland on Ancestry.com is another alternate universe (in every available census), populated by Minors of 50, Sweatie Shop Owners, and even a Retired Master Mariner Brush Merchant Servant. I had visions of the man selling door-to-door ~ till I realised he had been in the British Merchant Service….

  6. Your efforts are much appreciated. I note however, that one of Bohemian Football Club’s founders, and 1st honorary secretary of the Leinster Football Association (precursor to the present-day FAI) Dudley Thomas Hussey (1871-1944) STILL appears as Dually…. One for the next batch of corrections perhaps. Keep up the good work

  7. This is huge! If, like me, you’ve been infuriated by silly and unsearchable (because you’d never thing of looking up those words) transcriptions like Gatholic, Sertrude, Brofessor, etc.

    Dare we ask, what happened to all the corrections submitted (before 2016) to the http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie site itself? I submitted plenty until it dawned on me that they were likely not going anywhere.

    I’m glad to see my grand aunt Margaret Gertrude’s middle name is no longer listed as Sertrude at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Meath/Crossakeel/Crossakeel_Town/727709/ (though Margaret is still missing its final letter, which is clearly visible at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai003083276/).

    Meanwhile, one Gertrude is still listed as Sertrude: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Louth/St__Laurence_Gate/Custom_House_Quay/570644/

    Thanks!

    1. I’m on a ten-month contract with NAI, so I’ll keep grinding back until next July. I hope by then to be back to 2012/13 or so.
      John

  8. I did send this sometime back. Household return for Tuohy family in 1911 Ballycarrane Thurles Rural is found under the file? Out-Offices and farm steadings return (Form B2.) Not sure if this type of correction is within your brief but would be delighted if it could be rectified.

  9. Thanks for changing my GGrandmothers( Rose Rooney) age from 56 to 36 on the 1911 Census records. She was only 23 yrs old on the 1901 Census!!
    I didn’t realize the error until the 1901 census was released.

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