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1901 census

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  • janetreakes2001
    dont know if you read this from EASTMANS The following article is from Eastman s Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2002 by Richard W. Eastman. It is
    Message 1 of 3 , Apr 23, 2002
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      dont know if you read this from EASTMANS
      The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy
      Newsletter and is copyright 2002 by Richard W. Eastman. It is
      re-published here with the permission of the author.


      - Something Amiss with Online 1901 U.K. Census

      My e-mail box is filling up with comments and questions from
      people who want to access the online 1901 Census for England and
      Wales. There have been rumblings of discontent all this year, but
      now the rumblings have reached a crescendo. It seems there are
      multiple problems with the census database. First of all, it isn't
      online anymore! Next, there are questions about the accuracy of
      the indexes. Third, there are questions about the sale of vouchers
      that remain worthless.

      By way of background, the U.K. Public Record Office launched a new
      service in January of this year that was to make the 1901 census
      records available worldwide for a modest fee. The Census
      Enumeration Books were to be scanned and the images put online on
      a pay-as-you-view basis. They were also to be indexed -- a name
      index for free and a full indexed entry on a pay-as-you-view
      basis.

      Within minutes after becoming available, anxious genealogists and
      others who are seeking information about UK residents from over a
      century ago overloaded the site. The Web site virtually ground to
      a halt as more than a million users tried to log on and trace
      their family history during the first three hours. You can read
      more about the site's launch in my January 9, 2002 newsletter at:
      http://www.ancestry.com/library/view/columns/eastman/5123.asp

      The following week I again wrote about the continuing problems in
      this newsletter. The Public Record Office (PRO) announced that
      they had ordered more Web servers to handle the unexpected crush
      of genealogists who wanted to access the online transcribed
      records. The PRO announcement said, in part:

      The site remains unable to meet continuing levels of demand.
      The PRO has agreed with QinetiQ's technical team that
      searching of the database and downloading of images will not
      be available for one week to allow enhancements to take place.
      The Census site will provide updated information and help
      about using the Census service. Meanwhile the normal 1901
      Census microform services continue to be available at the PRO
      Kew and local record offices and public libraries across the
      country.

      The 1901 Census On-Line service is available at the Family
      Records Centre and at Kew. Access is limited to one hour per
      user by ticket. Tickets are available on a first-come first-
      served basis and no advance bookings can be taken.

      I wrote those two articles in the first few weeks of January.
      Nearly four months later, the site still is "unable to meet
      continuing levels of demand." For a few weeks you could only
      access the site from certain Family Records Centres and at Kew.
      However, by late January the site was shut down entirely, and a
      notice said that the database was undergoing "enhancements and
      rigorous testing." There certainly must be a lot of testing going
      on as the database has been undergoing "enhancements and rigorous
      testing" for more than three months now. The PRO Web site at
      http://www.pro.gov.uk still says, "We apologise that the testing
      is taking much longer than anticipated but it is vital that we
      have a reliable service for users."

      A second issue also has arisen: that of the quality of the indexes
      created by QinetiQ's subcontractors. Those who have succeeded in
      accessing the database claim that the error rate is outrageous.
      The Federation of Family History Society's Web site states
      "initially 85% of the transcribed data failed to meet the
      (unspecified) accuracy rate required."

      The 1901 UK Census was indexed and placed online by QinetiQ. That
      organization is a part of DERA, the British Government's "Defence
      Evaluation and Research Agency." QinetiQ is a wholly government-
      owned corporation, according the Web site at:
      http://www.qinetiq.com and at
      http://www.qinetiq.com/about_qinetiq/07history_and_ppp/index.asp.

      QinetiQ originally planned to have the indexes created by
      residents of the British prison system. However, eventually much
      of the indexing work was actually done in Sri Lanka. There is some
      disagreement as to how much of the indexing was done in that
      country. The PRO's own advisory council, with members drawn from
      the Society of Genealogists, the Federation of Family History
      Society, the Guild Of One Name Studies and others, reportedly was
      told that only a small percentage would be so transcribed and that
      these would be mostly the Welsh returns. Yet other documents state
      that 78% of the total indexing was done on the Indian sub-
      continent. Whatever the source, those who have used the 1901
      online census during its brief availability claim that the error
      rate is much too high to be acceptable. It appears that those
      doing the transcription work often were unable to read the 100-
      year-old handwriting.

      Barney Tyrwhitt-Drake queried his MP about this. Mr. David
      Lidington (Aylesbury) then asked the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord
      Chancellor's Department, pursuant to her answer of 20th March,
      Official Report, column 414W, on the 1901 census, what steps were
      taken to familiarize employees based in India and Sri Lanka with
      the handwriting and spelling used by enumerators of the 1901
      census. Ms. Rosie Winterton, Parliamentary Secretary, responded:

      The data input company based in India and Sri Lanka
      demonstrated that it had in house skills at interpreting late
      19th century handwriting by producing test results of a very
      high level of accuracy prior to the award of the contract. In
      order to augment these skills, ten Public Record Office staff
      with expertise in interpreting census enumeration returns
      spent, between them, twenty weeks at the company's bases in
      India and Sri Lanka. They gave training sessions on the
      detailed transcription rules, on the formation of the
      handwriting to be found in the returns and on the etymology of
      Welsh place names. They also responded to queries raised by
      individual operators while they were transcribing the returns.

      Public Record Office staff ensured that keying operators had
      access to appropriate reference sources such as English and
      Welsh gazetteers and name listings. They also provided
      supervisors with detailed feedback on errors encountered
      during the quality assessment of the transcribed data to seek
      to prevent such errors re-occurring.

      The transcription rule for most of the data found in the 1901
      census returns was to transcribe it exactly as it appeared. As
      a result, there was no requirement to translate 1901 spelling
      to its modern day equivalent.

      Barney Tyrwhitt-Drake and others who have used the indexes claim
      that the above response is misleading. Mr. Tyrwhitt-Drake writes:

      The only quantitative assessment of the transcription accuracy
      of the process so far has been the one published in Computers
      in Genealogy by John Dawson (vol 7. No.5/6, p.248) using data
      from the 1891 pilot of Norfolk, which was prepared to the same
      protocols. In this article he concludes "There must be serious
      doubts about the usefulness of a product such as the 1891
      Census Pilot of Norfolk when so many obvious errors of
      transcription remain." I can only comment on my subjective
      experience of editing both the 1891 pilot and the 1901 itself
      as well as the errors found in my one 50 pence download on 1
      Jan 2002. I think John Dawson may be guilty of understatement.

      There has been some head-scratching about the work of the "ten
      Public Record Office staff with expertise in interpreting census
      enumeration returns [who] spent, between them, twenty weeks at the
      company's bases in India and Sri Lanka." It would appear that
      their time spent in India and Sri Lanka did not result in quality
      indexes.

      A third issue revolves around the use of prepaid vouchers. There
      were to be two ways of paying for use of the 1901 U.K. Census
      database: one was with a credit card and the other was with a
      prepaid voucher. The PRO appointed a large number of resellers
      for the prepaid vouchers and offered each reseller a discount on
      each £1000 of vouchers sold. It is estimated that more than
      £100,000 ($160,000 U.S.) worth of vouchers were sold. The vouchers
      remain worthless as they pay for access that is unavailable. To
      their credit, the PRO has offered refunds for those who have given
      up and now simply want their money back.

      Genealogy groups across the U.K. and elsewhere are now mobilizing.
      Many have written to their MPs (Members of Parliament) demanding
      action. No 10 Downing Street (the home of the Prime Minister)
      accepts e-petitions. A suitable web site has been set up for those
      concerned to add their signatures; there are 1,200 signatures
      there already and the list is growing. It will be open until May
      7.for signing and then sent to Downing Street. You can add your
      name to the petition at: http://www.activeservice.co.uk/petition/

      This "grass roots" uprising is continuing, and you can find a lot
      of information about it online. You can start at the Federation of
      Family History Society's Web site at:
      http://www.ffhs.org.uk/1901B.htm. Also look at:
      http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&q=1901+Census+Mailing+List&btnG=
      Google+Search.
      A mailing list also has been established about the 1901 Census. To
      subscribe, send an e-mail to UK-1901-CENSUS-L-request@... and
      in
      the body of the message just write one word: subscribe. Do not write
      anything else, not even your signature.

      This should be a fascinating story to watch in the coming months.
      My thanks to Jeanne Bunting, Barney Tyrwhitt-Drake, Linda Jones
      and others for all the information they supplied about the U.K.
      1901 census fiasco.
    • edwina52
      Furthe to my previous message about my g-grandparents missing from the 1901 census, I have contactd the helpdesk who were actually very helpful and it
      Message 2 of 3 , Sep 24, 2002
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        Furthe to my previous message about my g-grandparents missing from
        the 1901 census, I have contactd the helpdesk who were actually very
        helpful and it transpires that my g-grandparents' surname was mis
        transcribed as Coule when it should have been Cottle. The person I
        spoke to said that the original was actually very clear so he
        couldn't understand why there had been an error. He asked me to
        submit an ammendment and he also said that at the moment the safest
        and most economical way to pay for document copies is via a voucher.

        Edwina
      • brainit watkins
        This message has been edited by List Owner Recieved; Furthe to my previous message about my g-grandparents missing from the 1901 census, I have contactd the
        Message 3 of 3 , Sep 28, 2002
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          This message has been edited by List Owner

          Recieved; Furthe to my previous message about my g-grandparents missing from
          the 1901 census, I have contactd the helpdesk who were actually very
          helpful and it transpires that my g-grandparents' surname was mis
          transcribed as Coule when it should have been Cottle. The person I
          spoke to said that the original was actually very clear so he
          couldn't understand why there had been an error. He asked me to
          submit an ammendment and he also said that at the moment the safest
          and most economical way to pay for document copies is via a voucher.

          Edw





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