Archive for the ‘Product’ Category

More address search tips

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Address searching often requires a degree of lateral thinking to get the best results. Here’s a few extra tips and also some new features on the horizon which aim to make your searching easier. The post below is based in replying to questions from a customer searching in Dorking, Surrey but the points apply equally to addresses across the country.

The source of address details on the census is that taken from the original form filled in by the householder (this contrasts with previous censuses, where the forms were compiled by the enumerator, thus introducing some level of standardisation in recording). Unfortunately, several factors conspire to make the historical document problematic for finding addresses using 1911 census returns. 

The first is that in 1911, the concept of a full postal address with a number and street was less evolved than it is today. Many houses simply carried names and householders would then place the town afterwards. To take an example, looking at modern-day Pixham Lane in Dorking, Surrey, the majority of the houses carried names but most householders simply included their postal address as “name of house, Dorking” and this is the information that we transcribe. Unfortunately this was compounded by the small space on the original form left for the address, meaning the householder would often abbreviate the address to make it fit. Have a look at an example of an Original Page to see how small the space was for your ancestors to enter their address. 

The second is that many householders used abbreviations for words (as we do today), such as “Rd” for “Road”. Again using an example of Lincon Road in Dorking (around the corner from Pixham Lane) if you search for “Lincoln” on its own in Dorking, Surrey all 44 properties are returned sequentially, some listed as “Lincoln Road” others as “Lincoln Rd”. Try searching for just the first part of the address and leaving off lanes, Roads, Crescents etc, but narrow the search area by county and district first.

We will be applying many data enhancements and standardisation processes over the coming months to compensate for these common inconsistencies in the originals and to make the data more easily searchable. However, the transcriptions are in this case accurate based on the original documents. To get the best out of any historical document, a degree of lateral thinking often has to be applied. 

Thirdly, place names and spellings change: in the case above, Pixham had an alternative spelling of “Pixholme” and 35 properties are found in Dorking under this listing. If you can find contemporary maps of the area you are searching, either online or in local libraries and archives, these can prove useful as the name today may be utterly different.

 Finally, with 8 million different sets of handwriting, deciphering becomes extremely difficult and what may appear to be transcription errors (and in some cases are) occur. Thus we found one property transcribed as “Pischolme”. However, when examining the householder’s writing, the awful way he had formed the X would lead any person to transcribe it this way.

 We are working on a number of ways to make searching by address simpler in face of the difficulties posed by the original records, but the unique nature of the 1911 census means these methods have had to be worked out afresh for this census, and the census is very much work in progress, although to date hundreds of thousands of researchers have successfully used the service to identify the records they want to view.

 As well as applying many enhancements to the data to attempt to smooth over the inconsistencies of our ancestors, we will also release the RG78 Enumerators Summary Books soon (current estimate is April), which list the households and heads in each area: this information is invaluable for identifying neighbouring houses when the address information left by our ancestors makes this hard to recover. If you have already paid to view a household image, you will be able to view the linked Enumerators images for free, by returning to your saved records. You will not be required to make further payment to view these.

We will also be adding a wildcard search to the street field to allow you to search laterally and many more data standardisations will be applied over the coming months.

Come and meet us at WhoDoYouThinkYouAre LIVE

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

We’re frantically preparing for WhoDoYouThinkYouAre LIVE show which starts on Friday at Olympia in London. For those of you who are close enough to attend and want to visit, we have a 2 for 1 ticket offer below. Final tickets are selling fast so don’t delay - seminars are already sold out.

At the show we’ll be presenting the background to the census, how we disgitised it, some tips and hints for better searching and also unveiling some of the features that are to come in the following months on the site including your first glimpse of the RG78 (Enumerator Summary Book) images. We’ll also be on hand to answer your questions one-to-one. So make sure you drop by the stand: we look forward to meeting you.

BUY 2 FOR 1 TICKETS! is giving you the chance to buy two adult tickets for the price of one – that’s just £20*! To claim this special offer, simply call 0844 412 4629 or visit and quote FMP241 today!

Special Q Jump tickets are now SOLD OUT for Friday and Saturday.

*£2 transaction fee applies. 2 for 1 offer ends 20th February 09. On Door standard entry tickets priced at £20 each. Q Jump tickets not available on the door. This is not a BBC event.

Credit extension for those waiting for remaining counties

Monday, February 16th, 2009

We are happy to let you know that we will extend credits that are due to expire, for an additional 90 days, at no cost.

This is for the benefit of users who are waiting to search for ancestors in areas which are not yet online.

We cannot extend credits until they are due to expire, so please email 1911 Customer Support ( 14 days or fewer before your credits are due to expire and let them know which area you are waiting for.

UPDATE (25/02/09): we will be automatically extending credits that are due to expire before the end of March - you do not need to take any steps for this this to happen.

Fields transcibed from the original page

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

A number of people have asked why there is slightly more information on the original page than there is on the transcript. 

When we transcribe the census, we transcribe everything on the original form except for the number of people in the house. The reason we do not transcribe the number of people in the house is that we do not believe that it is a particularly useful piece of data to include in the search engine (very few people would know this information, although arguably it could be useful for sociologists analysing the data in bulk). The reason for creating the transcriptions is simply to allow us to build a search engine which can analyse the most useful information provided in the original pages and provide results based on this to guide you to the original pages.

So the only other information that is included on the original page but not on the transcription is the number of living children born to the marriage, number dead and number of rooms in the house.

Again the reason we do not include this on the transcript is because we do not believe that this information is particularly useful as a search field and it is therefore excluded from the search options as well. All other fields are included on the transcript as they are all available as options in the advanced search.

The concept and purpose of the transcripts on the 1911census site (and indeed all historical records) is to act simply as a finding aid for the original page.

We always recommend that family historians (as all good historians should) rely on the original record wherever possible as the single definitive source of truth, and also the source of those extra details - not necessarily useful to search for as unlikely to be known in advance with anything approaching certainty, but potentially valuable for further research.

New search features - leading wildcard, increased year range

Friday, January 30th, 2009

We have turned on some more search features for you. Firstly, you can now use a ‘leading wildcard’ (i.e include a wildcard as the first letter of the name). This is helpful as the initial character of names is more liable to be mistranscribed.

Secondly, we have increased the range of dates that you can search: you can now search +/- 5 years on Date of Marriage and +/- 10 years on Date of Birth.

More goodies coming next week - keep your eyes peeled.

Last week in Numbers

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

In the past week, we have served 4.4 million searches during 476 thousand Visits by 239 thousand Visitors, resulting in 18.7 million Page Impressions.

Since launch that brings us to: 15.8 million searches, 2.34 million Visits, 1.26 million Visitors, 70.7 million Page Impressions.

Transcription process and accuracy levels

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

There have been a few questions on transcription accuracy and our policy towards certain aspects of transcribing the records. We hope this post clears up a few questions!

The transcription accuracy of the website at launch is in excess of 98.5% according to recent tests - this threshold is set as a requirement by the National Archives.

Transcribing the census is a massive exercise - every single digitised document has to be read and transcribed and this process results in over 7 billion keystrokes over the course of the project. Naturally in this volume of keystrokes, more than a few errors will be made.

However, during the transcription process, we do apply a number of processes (developed during our many years’ experience of digitising censuses and other historical documents) to correct the most obvious errors and keep inaccuracy to a minimum.

The 1911census in particular poses specific problems - because the household summaries are the core documents rather than enumerators’ books, the variety of the handwriting itself is significantly wider - in fact there are 8 million different hands writing returns, making interpretation of the handwriting a much more challenging task!

Now some good news - the 98.5% accuracy at launch will improve over time.

The first way that it will be improved is by users of reporting errors to us. Each report is reviewed by hand by the transcription team and if the change is approved, the change is incorporated into the search results, usually within a month (when the next data upload is made to the website).

Our policy is to accept changes only if they match what is on the original page (i.e the household form). So if your ancestor made spelling mistakes on the original page, they will be carried through into the transcript. This is actually more common than you might think, so please be sure to check the original page before you assume that there is an error, rather than an accurate transcription of the original document.

The second way that we improve the quality of the transcription over time is by applying ‘data standardisation’ processes. This is basically a set of rules we develop over time as we identify errors and apply to the data. A basic standardisation that we apply for example is converting “Geo” to “George” and listing records from Kent, Surrey and Middlesex as “London” if they fall within the metropolitan London area. We are developing and applying more data standardisations over time to eliminate more of the current transcription errors and to make searching easier, but some of these processes are much easier to apply once the data is complete.

All of our transcriptions undergo thorough batch sampling, by the transcription house, by The National Archives and by our in-house Quality Control team. Any batch failing to meet the required level of accuracy is rejected and rekeyed.

One way of reducing transcription errors is by ‘double-keying’ every entry - this basically means getting the transcriptions done twice (by different people) and then comparing the two versions and eliminating differences by hand. However, the cost of doing this naturally doubles the transcription cost, would not improve the accuracy rate by a hugely significant degree (you can never reach 100%), and the costs would have had to have been passed on to the public – resulting in higher prices for the census service.

We could also have taken the route of transcribing fewer fields – just a name index, like the old pre-digital booklets – but feel that this would have resulted in fewer people being able to find their ancestors as it would narrow the number of fields you can search on. It would also have made the transcription much less useful for academic study, which is one of the uses to which 1911 census will be put when it is completed.

It is important to remember that the transcription is designed as a finding aid for the original documents, which should be viewed as the “source of truth”; happily most users are able to find their ancestors despite the inevitable errors that creep in.

We have also provided very flexible search options (using wildcards, for example), which, with some lateral thinking, can also help you track down those who do not appear on the first search. The search options had to be constrained at launch to allow for the volumes of people searching, but we have been unlocking these features as the week has worn on, and there is more to come (see other blog posts).

People twittering about the 1911 census

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Some interesting tweets on Twitter about the 1911 census. Normally I don’t spend much time with Twitter but interesting to see what people are finding (and this is a blog after all). at WhoDoYouThinkYouAre? LIVE

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

We’re very proud to announce that we will be taking the 1911 Census on tour - first stop is the ‘WhoDoYouThinkYouAre? LIVE’ show in London on the weekend of Friday 27th February – Sunday 1st March.

If you’d like to find out more about the census and get tips on how to use it, we’ll be hosting a series of workshops and lectures on all 3 days. Or just come and say hello to the team.

We’ve also got a special ticket offer for you:

BUY 2 FOR 1 TICKETS! is giving you the chance to buy two adult tickets for the price of one – that’s just £20*! To claim this special offer, simply call 0844 412 4629 or visit and quote FMP241 today!

Special Q Jump tickets also available for £22* each, including 3 workshops and fast track entry to Ask the Experts!

*£2 transaction fee applies. 2 for 1 offer ends 20th February 09. On Door standard entry tickets priced at £20 each. Q Jump tickets not available on the door. This is not a BBC event.

Below is some more information on the event itself (from the organisers):

The countdown has begun! With only a few short weeks left until the biggest event in the family history calendar, Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE 2009 looks set to be another fantastic show.  The event boasts celebrities, record holders, expert speakers, family history societies, and a huge range of family history products and services to indulge your interest and aid you in your research. 

This year also sees the show dates changing to the earlier weekend of Friday 27th February – Sunday 1st March. With most people exploring their family history in the winter months, the event comes at the perfect time of year to bring family historians together and make incredible discoveries about the past! 

If your interest has been ignited by the release of the 1911 census, then Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE is the perfect place to find out more. Hosted by and in association with The National Archives, this exciting addition to the wealth of family history resources available to researchers will be showcased at the event, and there will be a whole host of experts on hand to help you discover how the census can aid you in your research. 

The show would not be complete without its celebrity time travelers, and this year Ainsley Harriott, Sir Matthew Pinsent CBE and Lesley Garrett CBE will be taking to the stage to recount their fascinating family stories. With slavery, royalty, determination and tragedy littering their ancestors’ colourful lives, Ainsley, Matthew and Lesley’s exclusive live sessions are guaranteed to entertain and inspire. 

With new additions including “Scottish Saturday” to help you research and celebrate your Celtic roots, a DNA Workshop supported by Family Tree DNA and a Regional Workshop supported by the Federation of Family History Societies, as well as old favourites such as the Society of Genealogists’ Family History Show and workshop programme, not to mention some 200 exhibitors, Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE is a one-stop genealogy shop like no other. 

So book your tickets today and don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to fill in the gaps in your family tree and make your connection to events in history.

The first week in numbers

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

It seems longer (!), but the 1911 Census has now been live for a week.

In that time we have served 52 million Page Impressions and 11.4 million searches during 1.85 million Visits by 1.1 million Visitors from around the globe.

As the initial rush of traffic dies down, we are starting to release new features on to the site. Stay tuned to this blog for more news.