Every single human intervention in a record-set leaves its own layer of errors and omissions. Even the originals have mistakes. My own birth cert records my father as a farmer, something that irritated him immensely when he found out – he was proud he couldn’t tell one end of a cow from another. I presume the registrar in Portiuncula hospital in 1954 didn’t know Da’s occupation and made a reasonable guess. In 1950s rural Ireland he would have been right most of the time.
Add to that the errors made when the records are catalogued. And then the omissions when they’re microfilmed. And the ones that are overlooked when the microfilms are digitised. Not to mention the mistranscriptions.
It’s a wonder we can find anything at all.
What set me off on this was last week’s post about 1911 census returns imaged online but not transcribed. It produced an itch that had to be scratched: what about all the other 1911 returns that are missing? Some fell down the back of a desk early on and never made it to the National Archives. Some were missed by the Mormon microfilm team, but exist in hard copy in NAI. And some were microfilmed but never made it online, for reasons only known to the digitisers, Library and Archives Canada.
So I’ve scratched that itch and put together a master list of
online but untranscribed,
microfilmed but not online,
not microfilmed but in hard copy
gone, God knows where.
The sources are the Rootschat forum on the topic, NAI’s own list of what’s missing (don’t ask) and my own fevered scratchings. I hope it will provide a home for any other refugees.
The method used by the National Archives of Ireland to digitise its genealogical records was sensible and straightforward. It took the existing microfilms (all created by the LDS Church) as the starting point and used digital images created from the microfilms as the basis of transcription and to provide an online copy of the original.
So far so good.
The first result is that the online collections include any flaws in the microfilms. For instance, the 1901 microfilms omitted the reverse of all Form As, which contain useful place-name identifiers, and so these are missing from the online image collection. Or areas missed by the microfilm team – Ramelton Road in Letterkenny – are still offline only.
The second result is that it is possible to use the online image collections as if they were microfilm, scrolling forward and back through them in sequence.
How do you do this? In your browser address-bar, you’ll see something like “census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai002500860/”. Just add 1 to that number to go forward a frame and subtract 1 to go back.
But the real question is why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone want to treat these image collections as if they were microfilm? Haven’t we spent half our lives praying for an escape from microfilm?
We don’t get away that easy. Just one example: the 1911 finding aid used to oversee the transcriptions included a category “Townland”. Many enumerators’ returns for small, single-street villages left the townland name blank and entered the name under “City, Urban District, Town or Village”. But where the finding aid left the townland blank, the transcribers presumed there were no returns and left it untranscribed. So around forty smallish villages are imaged online, but not findable by searching the 1911 database of transcripts.
The only way to research them is by going to the initial image and scrolling through them by hand. Precisely as if you were at one of those blasted microfilm machines.
So now you know why you couldn’t find Ballaghdereen and Moate and Kinvara in 1911.
Below is a table of the omissions I know of, with a link to the initial file. Let me know if you come across more.
Street-villages untranscribed in 1911, but imaged online
[This post was originally published in March 2016, but got washed away in the Great Delete of June 2016. Joe Buggy wanted it back, so it's his fault. Paddy Waldron continues to unearth other missing returns at Rootschat.]
Griffith’s Valuation is an astounding achievement, a masterpiece of Victorian social quantification that measures every property on the island of Ireland with painstaking, pinpoint precision. But it is not a census, and to use it as a census substitute, you have to understand how it works.
Griffith was charged with producing a scientific basis for property taxation in Ireland, and that is exactly what he did. Every building and every field in the country was assessed in meticulous detail to produce a monetary figure that represented the income that property should produce every year. The results were published between 1847 and 1864 in a series of 301 volumes.
These volumes were a public statement of the property tax liabilities of the inhabitants of the areas they cover, and were open to challenge. So accuracy was paramount. And part of this accuracy was precision about the date of publication – property, then as now, was a moving target.
For researchers, those precise dates of publication can be very important: if your William Burke was in Boston in March 1856, that can’t be him in Castlebar on January 26th 1857.
So how do you get that precise date? Every volume has the date on its title page. And you can get to the title page by going through Askaboutireland.
Run a search (e.g. http://goo.gl/JFSkd8 ), then open up a page image in a new tab or browser window. If you want, you can then just click the “previous page” link until you get to the volume title page.
But each volume can have up to 500 pages, making that process mind-numbingly tedious. Here’s a shortcut: in the browser address bar, you’ll see something like “griffiths.askaboutireland.ie/gv4/z/zoomifyDynamicViewer.php?file=210173[…]”
The”file” in that address is made up of two parts, a three-digit volume number and a three-digit page number. The example above therefore refers to volume 210, page 173. If you want to go to page 1 of volume 210, just change that 173 to 001 in the address bar, hit “enter” and there you are. The precise publication date is usually about two-thirds down on the left. In the example, it’s January 26th 1857.
[This post was originally published in March 2016, but got washed away in the Great Delete of June 2016. It's useful enough to republish, I think]
As a leading question, this ranks close to “When did you stop beating your wife?” For years I’ve dodged it by mumbling about coincidence and the need to make a living. Recently, though, I had to answer in public, and found myself coming out with some truths.
First, I love the endless solving of thousands of small puzzles. It is literally addictive. The tiny hit of satisfaction from uncovering a minuscule piece of the jigsaw and seeing it fit with the whole is very like the sweet little nicotine rush I used to get from each pull of a cigarette. The compulsion to go on is continually reinforced, and the fact that no family history can ever be completely finished, that the bigger puzzle can never be solved, just amplifies that compulsion.
Second, the part of genealogy that I enjoy most, making heritage databases, has a near-religious rightness about it. As in Van Morrison’s classic ‘Cleaning Windows’, things that were opaque are made clear. And like Van, I take an evangelical pleasure in it. As well, of course, as the less pure satisfaction of revenge on records that used to consume days of my life but now take only minutes.
Most of all, though, genealogy brings history to life in ways that are endlessly enthralling. To use records properly, you have to try to see them through the eyes of the people who made them, the recorders, as well as the people who are recorded. The result is a worm’s-eye view of history, where the laws of statistics don’t apply and great events happen away in the distance.
As a way of understanding history, it has its flaws – our ancestors didn’t necessarily understand what was happening to them, any more than we understand what’s going on around us now. But it certainly helps.
Last week’s historic newspapers post omitted to mention a few salient facts. The two websites I wrote about are both subscription-only, though irishnewsarchive is free in public libraries in the Republic and britishnewspaperarchives offers a pay-as-you-go option, ideal for occasional users like myself. I also failed to point out that on this site I try to keep tabs on which publications and what years they both cover – check out Waterford, for example.
Now, let the quibbles begin.
One group of important papers still falls between the gaps left by both sites. These are the large numbers of local papers published between 1750 and 1820, catering mainly to the Anglo-Irish – literate, propertied, urban, English-speaking, precisely the people most affected by the destruction of the Church of Ireland parish registers in 1922. The British Library doesn’t have many of them and they certainly don’t form part of the Independent News & Media archive. NLI has the largest collection, still only searchable manually. And so still a time sink.
The one way to short-circuit the manual search is a wonderful collection of abstracts created by the indefatigable Rosemary ffolliott more than 40 years ago. She went through almost every newspaper published in Munster and south Leinster between the mid-1750s and the early 1820s and extracted every single item of biographical interest – BMDs, of course, but also bankruptcies, changes of business address, reports from overseas wars, elopements, in short anything that might be of interest to a family historian, covering tens of thousands of families.
She then arranged them alphabetically in two series, one covering mainly Cork and Kerry papers, the other Limerick, Ennis, Clonmel and Waterford.
Her impish sense of humour is evident. The following two items follow each other in her arrangement:
Cork Constitution Thu 6 Nov 1767: “Married last Sunday Mr Harding Daly of Whitehall near Kittmount to the agreeable widow Fleming of Hamon’s Marsh with a fortune of £800.”
Cork Constitution Mon 9 Nov 1767: “The paragraph mentioning the marriage of Mr. Hardng Daly to the widow Fleming appears to be without foundation.”
One of the (many) bees in my bonnet is just how hard it is to get access to the collections. Both are on microfiche, but the only place I know that has the full set is Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse St.
FindMyPast/Eneclann digitised Rosemary’s other major achievement, The Irish Ancestor. I would have thought these collections would be ideal for them.
The cost/benefit balance in researching newspapers used to be all wrong. Any attempt to zero in on specific events or families would inevitably get side-tracked: you’d just end up reading the paper. That could be very enjoyable – the accounts of public hangings in the eighteenth century are hair-raising – but unless you could spare a week, the time expended just wasn’t worth the results. And the working presumption was that these publications were really only of interest if the people you were researching were similar to their readership – literate, propertied, urban, English-speaking.
The latter site is (obviously) British, part of the DC Thomson stable, so all of the Irish titles it digitises are also available on its sister site, FindMyPast.ie. The aim behind it is simple and vast: to digitise all the historic newspaper holdings of the British Library.
The BL has the world’s biggest collection of nineteenth-century Irish titles, so its usefulness is obvious. From 1822, every newspaper in the then-United Kingdom had to hand over a copy as part of the stamp-tax process. From 1869, the Library’s legal deposit rights were extended to newspapers. It seems to have taken a few years for news of the stamp-duty rule to reach Ireland – most of the BL’s Irish holdings date from around 1826. But after then, virtually everything is here or on its way, from the Athlone Sentinel (1834-1861) to the Wexford Independent, (1830-1871).
The Irish site, irishnewsarchives, was initially based around the archives of the Irish Independent group, Independent News & Media, including all the provincial papers gobbled up by that group over the past few decades. It has since expanded greatly, possibly spurred by the threat of its British rival and now includes the full run of the late lamented Irish Press (1931-1995), as well good collections of the Freeman’s Journal and the Belfast News Letter from the early 1700s. At its heart, though, remains the INM stable of local newspapers, for which it also acts as an ongoing archive. So if you want to know what the people of Cavan and Monaghan were concerned about last December, The Anglo-Celt archive will tell you.
As with all online record-sites, commercial or not, caution and scepticism are needed. There are unmarked holes in both sites’ coverage, to be uncovered mainly by falling into them. Both use automated Optical Character Recognition, whose flaws mean that ingenuity and persistence are often necessary – pick a conspicuous name or word and plug away at the advanced search interface.
The British site’s interface is much quicker – irishnewsarchives seems to be stuck with old Microsoft database and web software that can be maddeningly slow. But there is no question of it becoming superfluous. Legal deposit ended in 1922 for newspapers in the South (though for some reason the BL has a full run of the Waterford Standard from 1951 to 1954), so the Irish site has an effective monopoly on publications after that year, making it essential for twentieth-century death notices, politics and local news. The Irish site also has much better nineteenth-century runs of the local newspapers that are now part of INM. And you can get a discount on subscriptions by using the code “JGDISC25” (only available via johngrenham.com, subject to availability, while stocks last …).
On the other hand, the sheer indiscriminateness of the britishnewspaperarchive approach (“hoover it all up and let God sort it out”) means that it will always have some things unavailable on irishnewsarchives.
For both, the biggest change is that every name in every paper is now findable. And large tracts of all newspapers consist of personal names – prize-winners, convicts, the complete under-13s B team … One way to get Mammy to buy the paper has always been to print little Johnny’s name.
The social range of reporting also turned out to be much broader than I used to expect. The Grenhams of Moore, most definitely not Irish Times readers, are listed with droves of cousins and in-laws in a Times Ballinasloe court report in 1880, arrested for preventing a bailiff evicting a neighbour. They were obviously keen participants in the Land War, something no one in later generations knew, and which only emerged because of digitisation.
So there is no doubt these two sites have moved newspaper research from the margins to the centre of Irish family history.
But. There. Are. Quibbles. Of course. Of which more next week.
Christmas is Ireland is deeply peculiar. By mid-December collective hibernation hysteria has gripped us all and we are compelled to stockpile food as if the world were about to end on Christmas Eve. On that day, we enter the family cave, roll a giant stone across the entrance and wait a solid ten days until it’s safe to come out again, with only our family and our mounds of decaying food for company.
So the annual Christmas hibernation is a good time to get stuck into a nice big project: a giant jigsaw, a marathon game of Risk, knitting a giant woolly jumper … Or mapping all the heads of household in the 1911 census of Ireland.
With data from the National Archives census site, I’ve just plotted the location of all the 3500 strange areas used for the census, District Electoral Divisions (giant jigsaw), counted the number of heads of household of every surname in each DED (marathon game of Risk) and mapped the two onto a Google map (giant woolly jumper). For a sample of what I’ve ended up with, have a look at the Lavins.
The results are useful in a number of ways. Most simply, it is much easier to grasp geographic distributions when they can be visualised and not just read. But there are many other uses – seeing the variant spellings that appear in the census, working out how the traditional homelands have shifted in the half-century since Griffith’s, catching outliers in places you mightn’t expect …
Of course there are caveats.
The way I worked out the locations of the DEDs was by identifying the latitude and longitude of a townland or street in each District, as recorded in the 1901 Townlands Index. This means that any changes between 1901 and 1911 aren’t captured and also that the point chosen on the map could be well away from the District’s centre, especially true for urban areas. And for those urban areas, the NAI transcript’s naming is truly weird. “Clifton”, “Clifton Ward” and “Clifton, Belfast Urban No. 2” are different versions of the same DED in Belfast. “Inn’s Quay”, “Inns Quay” and “Inn’s Quay (part of)” all cover the one Dublin DED. I’ve tried just to reproduce what NAI did, but be warned: at times I was utterly boggled.
There are also problems with the surnames. Over 10,000 heads of household (out of a total of 900,000) have surnames I don’t already have listed. The vast majority are certainly mis-transcriptions, but there also real names in there. George Zuorro, an Italian ice-cream seller in Belfast, is just one. Sorting out the real from the mis-transcripts is a big project in itself.
About six years ago I was involved in validating the first transcriptions of Catholic parish registers being made from National Library microfilms for IrishGenealogy.ie. The process required detailed scrutiny of the original image for every transcript that didn’t match my list of standard names, or that just looked fishy. So I had to scrutinise records I wasn’t actually searching for. In the baptismal register for Skibbereen, I came across this:
“23 November 1827 Catharine of Richd Leonard and Mary Regan, New Bridge, Sponsors: John Glosson Cate Sullivan”
I’m not sure why I thought it looked fishy, but when I went to the image, I found a very good reason for always checking the original:
It reads: “Nov. 23 1827 Catharine a bastard reputed daughter of Rich’d Leonard a soldier and Mary Regan wife of Tim Lordan late of New Bridge now living in Crookhaven. The mother of this infant is not only a public adulteress but also connected with a gang of coiners or makers of false money. Sponsors: John Glasson Cate Quinlivan by Rev P. Sheehy”.
One of the reasons, the Church was so squeamish for a long time about access to its historic records was fear that they might be full of stuff like this, PPs foaming at the mouth with steam coming out their ears, spouting material ripe for a good long libel case up in the Four Courts. It’s certainly true that the Rev P. Sheehy sounds apoplectic: he goes out of his way to make clear that the strumpet is not living in his parish, Skibbereen, but away beyond in that notorious den of iniquity, Crookhaven.
But Catharine, Richard, Mary and Tim are all long dead, as is the Rev P. Sheehy. And what they’ve left behind here are the bones of a Victorian three-decker melodrama, the most wonderful skeleton-in-the-closet you could possibly imagine.
And just to show that Church indignation was highly selective, here’s another baptism from that same batch, from Bantry, also in West Cork, on June 24 1825:
“John of Rich’d Earl of Bantry & Cath Sullivan Sp Mich’l Lenihan & Julia Bourk (spurious)”.
Some things got left behind in the great wave of 1916 centenary events and publications, and one of them was a project I was involved in.
2016 Family History is a new, free Irish genealogy education website, produced as a collaboration between the National Archives, the Department of Education and IrishGenealogy.ie. The initial aim was to create something that could be used in the classroom as part of the history curriculum, and the Learning Resources section (brainchild of the redoubtable Mary Ó Dubhain) is designed to provide teachers with ready-made tasks and lessons, all usable online or downloadable as a single pdf workbook.
However, it became clear very early that there was no reason to define the target audience so narrowly. Why not structure it so that anyone could work their way through at their own pace and get a good grounding in the basics of Irish research? So that’s what we did.
There are eight modules, focused on the bread-and-butter of Irish genealogy, civil, church, property and census records. The format is the same in each case: a short introductory video, a description of the source and a series of practice exercises (answers provided).
These exercises are connected to the two case studies on the site, one going through Seán Lemass’s family history (there had to be a 1916 connection), the other taking an ordinary working-class family, that of John Purcell, born in Dublin in 1902, with roots in Kerry. Users can work their way through these family histories in a single go, or build up to them using the module exercises.
It was fun to do, though we missed so many deadlines that there was no official launch. So this is the launch, the softest one ever. Sshhh.
Last week’s whinge about the National Archives Will Registers sub-site was just plain wrong. Everything that should be on the site is there, including the infamous Principal Registry Wills, 1891, G-M.
Stage 6 of New Source Syndrome is grovelling, shame-faced apology. Sorry.
The story of how I came to be so wrong and how I was corrected is instructive, though. I looked at the short blurb on the site, saw no mention of the surviving Principal Registry books, and spent a fruitless hour trying to find them. Scanning manually up and down the microfilm images for the title pages was equally frustrating. So I leapt to my conclusion.
Two morals: don’t be so quick to leap to conclusions, Boyo. And the search interface of the Archives site is pretty crude. No blame there: I know what the budget for the site was, precisely one brass farthing. And the deadline was the day before yesterday. The wonder is that they managed to get the material online at all.
I found out about my mistake from Brian Donovan, head of Business Development at FindMyPast.ie. He emailed me to point out that FMP had actually done all the digitisation for the National Archives, and supplied a link to Principal Registry Wills, 1891, G-M, free on their site.
Brian also pointed outthat my exclusive focus on the National Archives’ own site was misplaced – all of the material released in the Great September Infodump and now at genealogy.nationalarchives.ie is also on FMP, completely free to search but with the benefit of their surname variant system and much more fine-grained search options. And Previous/Next buttons with all their images.
He is absolutely right. The interface at FMP is orders of magnitude superior to the Archives’ own, simply because FMP had time and budget. Any research I do in the future on these records will be via FMP.
An interesting sidelight is the question of why the versions of the records at FindMyPast haven’t got the attention they deserve. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy (though just because they’re paranoid doesn’t mean … )
FMP is a subscription site, and the working presumption – don’t be so quick with the presumptions either, Boyo – is that their records are behind a pay-wall. The free access they provide to the NAI records is just not promoted strongly enough, at least for me. – if you look at their list of record sources, there is no indication of which sources are free and which paying. And loads of them are free.
So I’m off to comb through them one by one. No gift-horse dentistry this time.