Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Place of birth

One of the areas that gives me most trouble is place of birth. And I suspect that many of you are spending a lot of time trying to work out what the enumerator wrote and what he should have wrote.

The first thing to do is restate the golden rule – AS IS! We aim to reproduce what the enumerator wrote.

The place of birth column should have two items of information in it – county of birth and place of birth. Transcribers will have two columns to enter data into.

I’ll deal with the county first. Here you enter the county using the Chapman code. This is a 3-letter code that covers all UK counties, including the Irish ones. For some reason, most volunteers have a mental block about the Irish and Scots county codes and don’t use them. You can also enter UNK, OVB & OVF. These are Free Census conventions and are not necessarily “As is”.

UNK is used when no county is given. According to Free Census, as few of these as possible please.

OVB and OVF for people born overseas is not used on the census returns. It is in fact, confusing place of birth with nationality. Anyone born in the former British Empire or the United States counts as OVB. The problem with this is that the composition of the British Empire varied a lot between 1841 & 1891. The inclusion of the United States makes the whole thing silly. The COCP has suggested a way out of this, but I am afraid that Free Census is not interested in our suggestions. So, the rule of thumb is – is it an British name? If it is, count it as OVB. The only exception is where the census returns say British Subject or Naturalised British Subject. Here, the “as is:” rule comes into play again.

Often, the enumerator only gives the county. In that case, you should enter the Chapman code for the county and a hyphen. If however, the county is one of those where the county town has the same name as the county, enter the Chapman code and the county town. So Gloucester would be entered as GLS Gloucester. You should take note of how the enumerator generally enters county names. So if he is giving Leicestershire Hinkley and then writes Leicester, we can be fairly sure he means the county town and has just omitted the county as being to obvious to write.

Place of birth. Enter what the enumerator wrote. Never mind if you know it is wrong – just enter it. If the enumerator writes NK, or not known or unknown or this man is an idiot; please just enter it. If no place of birth is given, then enter a hyphen. This is not “as is” of course, but it shows that we have looked and that there is nothing there.

If you can work out what the enumerator should have written; by all means leave a note. It may help me in deciding what to do.

My approach (which differs from Free Census), is that we are replicating the enumerator’s words. There is an option during validation to enter the modern or correct name. I do not use this, believing that I might be misleading the researcher. In any case, they should not expect to get it all on a plate and a bit of lateral thinking will usually get them to the right answer.

My aim in writing this is to try and speed things up. Do NOT spend hours puzzling over a place name if you are sure you have transcribed what is there. If you are in doubt but have some ideas; don’t hesitate to leave a note. Remember that this is a system involving three of us. One of us might know the answer!

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