Thank you for your concern about my sanity

The clearance of the National Archives census correction emails backlog is approaching the half-way point, making it a good time to draw breath and take an overview.

I’ll have processed around 50,000 of the 100,000 emails by the end of June. Most of them cover multiple records, so they include about a quarter of a million suggested changes in all. So far, half are turning out to be accurate, a third are duplicates (corrections suggested more than once), and only 15% are downright inaccurate.

Over there with ye, accurate ones

The accurate are going live in monthly batches on, around 60,000 so far. Keep in mind that these corrections are exclusive to the NAI site – you won’t find them in the copies of the 1901 and 1911 censuses licensed by the commercial sites, Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage.

Most of the inaccurate suggestions are people trying to correct their ancestors’ mistakes, a self-evidently fruitless task. There are one or two along the lines of: “Forename: Dick; Surname: Head; Occupation: Nazi”, but a lot fewer than I expected. The vast majority of people take the accuracy of their ancestors’ records very seriously indeed. In some cases, so seriously that they go back every six months and enter the corrections again, hence the many duplicates. Patience, please.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not ploughing through every single email by hand. Extracting the suggested corrections into a database has made it possible to identify (some) duplicates programmatically, to pick out common errors, to weed out spam, to concentrate on corrected occupations only … In the end, though, it does come down to comparing the image with the suggestion. So really all I’m doing is varying the angle of attack in order to preserve my sanity. My dog has his doubts about how successful the effort has been.

Bertie, perhaps not the best judge of sanity

Sanity is also the pretext for my growing collections of gems. They’re not all transcription errors, though some of those are wonderful. I’m really hoping for a revival of the fine old Edwardian occupation of “penis tuner”,   and there’s no doubt a Trekkie fan of Mr. Sulu transcribed all those nuns as “Members of the Mr Suline Order”.

But some of the returns themselves give a nice flavour of the people they record. Hugh Holmes, the Lord Justice of Appeal in 1901, has four unmarried daughters in their twenties. He evidently feels the burden: under “Occupation” for all of them he enters “They toil not neither do they spin“. Edward Small, aged two in 1901, seems to have been teething. His father enters his occupation as “A Bawler“. And Bridget Cronin, the spoilt only child of John and Nora in Crohane in Kerry, is recorded as a “Bold Pet“.

18 thoughts on “Thank you for your concern about my sanity”

  1. Sounds like a lot of work, fair play! Will this corrections update include missing records? The Timahoe North and Timahoe South DED records for Kildare are in the 1911 census but missing from 1901 on the NAI website. At the moment the only place I can check them is FindMyPast or by going into the NAI and requesting them.

  2. Sounds like an enormous task, but thank you for sharing some of the more entertaining details! 🙂 Census records never cease to amaze or entertain.

  3. In researching my father’s side of the family I came across the 1911 census record of my Grand-uncle’s wife before they were married. Under “Religion” she and her sister had entered “Suffragette”. This was later crossed out and “R. Catholic” written on the form. I have no idea who made the correction.

  4. Hi John,
    Hilarious – thank you for starting my day off with a smile.
    Your dog Bertie is adorable!
    Slán go fóill

  5. Thanks John it’s fascinating to hear about some of the entries you have seen. Years ago I found a census return in Dublin where the head of household stated that he could read and write, and then against religion wrote (seven times!) ROMAN CHALITOC.

  6. Apologies for any extra work I may have caused. Having enthusiastically corrected several censuses on many a routine search, I then found that my name was coming up automatically in autofill when I filled in my email address ! At least you will know who they came from.

  7. I think he was fond of them too..the full quote

    Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin

  8. I so much enjoyed this article John! You carry your vast knowledge lightly and with such good humour. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  9. Hi John,
    Thanks for doing this tedious chore.
    Have you seen any sign of the Valentia Island returns? They’re out there somewhere……
    Thanks again,

  10. A census note from the USA: I looked up the 1910 census at the local library and found my grandparents’ family. The street where they lived in Morristown NJ was largely Irish immigrants in an area that was called “down Dublin” behind Assumption Church. The census taker had correctly written “Ireland” as the place of birth for my grandparents and others, but someone had later crossed that out and written in “England”! A lie and an insult. Anti-Irish sentiment was alive and well in the US in those days.

  11. You’re a marvel. Much appreciation for slogging through all this.
    Luckily Bertie is keeping you sane, I’m sure, and insisting you get away from the computer for a walk and fresh air…

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