FindMyPast’s unmarked elephant traps

Last March I wrote about the fresh transcripts of historic General Register Office birth and marriage records that had appeared on FindMyPast and issued my usual cheery “Come on in and thrash around, sure aren’t there mistakes in everything?” Now that I’ve been using them for a while, it’s time to advise a little more caution.

Apart from the peculiar transcription errors pointed out by Claire Santry, there also seem to be great gaping holes in the records. For the births, there appear to be no transcripts at all from the following Superintendent Registrars’ Districts:

Clogher, Clones, Clonmel, Coleraine, Cookstown, Cootehill, Croom, Dungannon, Dunshaughlin, Edenderry, Ennis, Enniscorthy, Ennistymon, Fermoy, Glin, Kildysart, Killala, Kilmallock, Kilrush, Limavady, Lisburn, Londonderry, Macroom, Magherafelt, Mallow, Manorhamilton, Middleton, Mitchelstown, Mohill, Mountmellick, Newcastle West, Omagh, Oughterard, Portumna, Rathdown, Rathdrum, Rathkeale, Scarriff, Schull, Skibbereen, Sligo, Tralee.

That’s 43 out of a total of 163, a whopping 26%. I haven’t actually checked every image on against the transcripts – hey, I have to take the dog out for a walk occasionally – but none of these SRDs appear in the FindMyPast filters and any record from these areas that I’ve checked on IrishGenealogy is missing in the fresh transcript.

The marriages seem to be relatively less flawed, missing only the SRDs of Dublin North, Ennistymon, Gortin and Strokestown. Relatively less flawed. Dublin North alone has 54,297 images on IrishGenealogy not transcribed here.

Every set of transcripts has its flaws and there’s nothing wrong with putting up partial datasets. But there is something very wrong about putting up partial datasets without any indication of what’s missing. It’s the equivalent of blindfolding users and having them cross a landscape riddled with giant unmarked traps.

What’s all the more peculiar is that one of FindMyPast’s signal virtues has long been the detailed information it supplies about its sources. It’s possible that the mistake is with the site’s coding, not the transcription, I just don’t know. But as things stand some serious background detail (and a health warning) are needed.


11 thoughts on “FindMyPast’s unmarked elephant traps”

  1. Funnily, I just posted about my experience in checking hundreds of FMP transcriptions.

    1. Don’t trust place names. It’s tempting to put townland into the keyword search box, but chances are you’ll miss some records, because transcribers aren’t familiar with local names, some names have several written variants, and place names seem to be often scrawled quickly and hard to read. You have to know your area well to read some of them correctly!

    2. Many deleted (crossed out and replaced) records have been included. I don’t know why, but that’s a problem. The most obvious clues are birth records with no mother’s name, where the scribe started filling in the record, stopped halfway, and then scratched it all out. There are quite a few of those, so watch out for incomplete records.

    3. Single mother records with no father shown, often have the mother’s surname given to the father in the transcription – which can be confusing. Watch out for birth records with no first name for the father.

    4. Some adjoining records have been muddled together. The transcriber has got confused and taken some items from one line, and some from the next. This does’t happen often, but I’ve seen several so far, and this can be very misleading.

    5. There are plenty of the usual transcription errors. There seems to have been no checking (perhaps understandable if they are doing a lot of work for free).

    6. IrishGenealogy has a number of duplicate records, where transcribers couldn’t decide between two names, so they created one record for each. They are (quite understandably) duplicated in the FindMyPast dataset too.

    1. I have noticed some transcription errors at FMP after carefully checking the original with the transcriptions. I would like to know whether there is a way to flag the mistakes, leave a comment, or indicate the error so others will benefit? Noting discrepancies and leaving feedback should be an automatic, easy process for everyone from (volunteer) transcribers to end users of the indexes.

      1. I have done a few corrections and used the directions for doing this work but I cannot say whether or not the site has checked these suggestions out and/or amended their transcription accordingly. I know that Ancestry does this and you know what has happened to your suggested amend,ent. If you are resourceful, you will find out how to suggest an amendment. It is not all that transparent.

  2. John, you may well correct me on this but I believe that even on there are huge swathes of records missing from Strokestown SRD.

    1. Both IrishGenealogy and FMP’s databases need to be treated with extreme caution. Both are far from complete and riddled with transcription errors.

      The database compiled by the GRO on needs to undergo a complete audit to bring it up to the standard one should expect of a state agency.

      As regards FMP’s database, I fail to fathom how the GRO allowed it to copy the data and to compile a competing set of records. I’m not saying that what FMP has produced isn’t helpful – once the massive errors and ommisions have been corrected – just that it seems hard to understand the logic of handing over publicly owned data to a third party to enable it to eclipse its own online service!

      Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time this has happened. The National Library of Ireland did exactly the same with its microfilm copies of the nation’s Roman Catholic parish registers. There are now competing databases for these records too, on Ancestry and FMP.

  3. It seems that Find My Past has now taken down these indexes. I have used them in the past, but they are no longer listed in the A-Z of of all record sets.

    Perhaps a good sign for the future, if they are being amended.

  4. Yes indeed, many birth records of Cork & Mohill are not listed. I thought the families hadn’t reg the children …..

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