Friday, December 08, 2006

The Cornish 1841 census

In the West Briton in late May 1841, a series of articles appeared entitled "Hints respecting the new census, to be taken on Monday 7th June" The writer is not identified but the way it is phrased suggests he is not a member of the authorities. I have only quoted parts of it on the grounds of size.

1. The best mode of taking a census is by a map and a register. On the map, the situation of houses only should be marked. Every house should be numbered, and then a register of every inmate made. The commissioners have adopted the plan of a register, and arranged an expensive machinery for taking it, but the form is very imperfect. It is to be written in pencil. Ages above 15 are to be entered thus - at 29, put 25, if 34, put 30, and soon. If a person has two Christian names, only one is to be inserted. The county where born is to be recorded, but not the parish, which the Act also requires. Such a register will be of little use. At the same cost one might be taken which would ensure an accurate census, and might be useful for many purposes in a parish till the decennial enumeration of 1851. A register of this kind was prepared in 1831 for a large parish in this county, and has been of great service ever since.

8. Instructions to the registrars and Enumerators have been issued by the commissioners, together with the householder's schedule. A copy of the latter is to be left at every dwelling the week before the 7th of June. 3,600,000 copies of it have been printed. The enumerators will do well, though they have the choice of employing an agent, to distribute these schedules themselves, as they will thereby become better acquainted with the extent and condition of their respective districts.

9. No instructions have as yet been given in the Superintendent Registrars, to whom the schedules and register books are to be finally brought. There appears, however, to be no intention of forming a summary of them for each parish and union before they are transmitted to London. Persons interested in the statistics of the county should bear this in mind, and endeavour to secure a summary for the use of the public in Cornwall before the documents are all sent away. It may be that otherwise they will have to wait a twelvemonth before the results are made known. [from here, the print becomes distorted]

10. It is very desirable that each Enumerator should provide for himself a map of his own district. This cannot be a [choice]... [article then continued that circles should be drawn, and numbered to indicate 1 house with 7 persons, or 56 houses with 268 persons, maintaining the system would then include all dwellings, not just those in towns and villages.]

16. A circular has been addressed by the commissioners to the clergy, requesting their co-operation in taking the census. Though it comes late, it will, no doubt, meet with due attention. A short note on the subject appeared in the last Ecclesiastical Gazette, and from the extensive circulation of that paper many may be lead thereby to examine the plan proposed, and to aid it by their advice and direction. No time should be lost; the business should be undertaken at once, during the next week, through the medium of committees, or by giving personal assistance to the enumerators.

19. On Monday next, the 7th of June, an attempt will again be made to form a Speculum Britannice, or mirror of the inhabitants as to their condition and locality, when they arise from their slumbers on the morning of that day, to give an exact picture of the then living generation, and to perpetuate a description of it for present and future use. This will be found no easy task - it will require all the assistance which the appointed officers, the local societies, the clergy, and others can give to render it complete as a national work. The institutions at Falmouth, Truro, Tavistock, Plymouth, and elsewhere should be on the alert. A statistical view of eight miles round St. Andrew's church, Plymouth, showing, inter alia, how the population is located, as well on the water as on the land, would be a valuable present to the British Association on their meeting at that beautiful harbour in August.

20. The enumerators will do well to keep for their own use and future reference a correct copy of their register, which they need not deliver over for a week, till Monday the 14th of June. Attention should be paid to the queries at the end of the registers whilst they perambulate their districts, as it may otherwise be found difficult on their return to prepare answers to them. The clergy are to transmit the abstracts of burials from 1831 to 1840, from the parish registers to the Bishop, on Monday, 21st of June. It is recommended to preserve in each parish a summary of the return.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Transcribing for Free Census

The problems encountered by transcribers can be divided roughly into two groups. Those concerned with the mechanics of FC transcribing; layout etc. And those concerned with making sense of what is written down by the enumerators.

One of the easiest ways of dealing with the mechanics of the task, is to sit back at the end of each page and each ED and look at what you have done. Most of the fields have defaults. In some cases, fields can be blank as a default, but many must have something in them. The county of birth column for instance, Col T, must have a 3-digit code from the Chapman code entered. You cannot leave it blank. Well, you can, but it will then surface as a mistake when I reformat it for checking. If you take a long slow look at each page, you should be able to see where things are missing.

My own personal preference is to transcribe vertically. I do the personal names first, then the surnames, then work to the right, always going down the page. Finally I fill in those details required to the left of the surname. I flag things up as I go if I am uncertain; I also change the text colour to red. If I leave notes, I try to write the sort of thing I write when validating. I have mixed feelings about autofill; but I am a touch typist which makes it easy to type, rather than clicking on the autofill selection. You have to watch the autofill, checkers have complained that people are selecting it without checking it is what they really want.

There is little to be done about the enumerator's writing except hope that you will get better at reading it; or you'll reach the end of the ED and the next one will be better. You can try and improve the image by manipulating it with IrfanView or Photoshop. However, you can also edit what you have done and the fact that personal and place names are often repeated might give you a chance to take a second look at what you have done.

One thing everyone should do is ask themselves - is what I have transcribed sensible? Recently I had a piece where the address was transcribed as "1uoodfbock". Not once, but three times. The transcriber flagged it up. In fact, it was "Woodstock". How many words are there that end in "ood"? Not many.

There are also things you can use to help you sort problems out. The first is Google. Both place & personal names may be detected by Google. Then there are the census returns on line. In Cornwall, most parishes now have 4 sets of census returns online and Wiltshire will slowly build up to at least three sets per parish. There are online gazetteers and sites that list old occupations. However, if you can read what is written, then don't waste time, just type it in. I don't mind you leaving me a note and in some cases it might make it onto the database.

I can see from the notes that many people are worried by the relationships given. Sons that look as though they should be grandsons. However, that is not our problem. Our task is to get down what is written, not correct it. By the way, "son in law" had a rather different meaning in the 19th century. It might have been more correct to say "son by law", and we would say stepson.

One trap that is very easy to fall in to, is to correct the enumerator's words. We are committed to reproducing the exact words the enumerator used. If he is wrong - tough! We have a golden rule "AS IS". If you stick to that, you can't be wrong.

Remember that this is a system. Transcriber, checker, validator and post validator. Transcribers should try and combine speed with accuracy. Don't spend hours over one word; give it your best shot and move on, flagging it up if you are unhappy.

Good luck!