Saturday, 24 January 2009

Care to Join Me in Transcribing?

Last evening Rootsweb’s ONTARIO and UPPER CANADA mailing lists both carried a message from Bill Martin to say that the FamilySearch website has just added the Ontario 1861 census to its indexing projects. I have been following the public announcements made in the past few months by the LAC, Ancestry and LDS FamilySearch, so I knew this was going to happen. I’ve got competition!

When the 1916 Census of the prairie provinces was available in November I transcribed half a dozen pages, so I resurrected my username and password and found the new project. It took a bit of trying—not all the introductory webpages have been updated to include it.

The LDS doesn’t allow its volunteers to choose where in the province they want to index. You get what you get. I found myself in Brantford. It was a beautifully clean background and the enumerator’s handwriting was extremely easy to read. Compared to the microfilm of the same census which I’ve been using, this page was a dream. Have they found some new photographic technology? Or have they just put out the best pages first?

My major complaint is that fifty lines on a page with no horizontal lines to follow make it very difficult to keep on the right track. There is no “blue blob”, reminiscent of the old sing-along bouncing ball, to guide one through this index the way there has been in others. But, maybe in their rush to put this index online, they forgot to add the gadget.

I wish that they had reduced the column width on the reply sheet for columns requesting one or two digit or letter answers. At the moment the person’s name and the person’s age do not appear on the screen at the same time.

I also wonder about their choice of columns. They have omitted the second column on the census, the Occupation. Not only is it a very useful item about an individual, but I have always found it to be a handy way to indicate the start of a household. It helped to draw that imaginary line across the page to keep one on track. It may still be there on the original, but it is not there on one’s transcription, so you don’t have a matching guide. “Relationship” was not a question on the 1861 census.

The last three columns requested are entitiled Marital Status, Widower and Widow. I have never been able to figure out why the last two of these three were included in the original census, but why bother with them on a transcription? If we have the wit to write down “m” if the Male column has a tick in it, and “f” if the Female Column has a tick in it, why can’t we use just one column to answer Marital Status with “m”, “s” or “w”? In devoting so much space to Marital Status they are forced to omit the following question on family membership.

There is great stress on the transcriber’s rule of “write down only what you see” . Guidance states that you mustn’t put anything but names in the Given Names column. In the page I did last night that meant that five ladies referred to as “Mrs” had to have the title replaced by a blank space and two named Widow so-and-so in the same household ended up with the same fate. “Mrs” was so commonly used for a married woman in the 1860s that I think some of them must have had trouble remembering what their actual given name was.

What bothers me most on that page is the family JOMES. Will they be lost to their descendants forever because the enumerator turned an “a” into an “o”, or because he turned an “n” into an "m"?

If you are interested in joining the project yourself, here's the link: .

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