Saturday, December 31, 2011

The moving target - census

[For background to The Moving Target series of posts, see the story so far]

First up, the census records. So far I have transcribed and made available online the census for Wing for 1841, 1871, 1891, plus the enumerators summary books for 1911. That leaves 1851, 1861, 1881, 1901 and the full 1911 census.

There's a clear distinction here between what has value for me personally (in terms of ease of accessibility to the information) and what has value to other researchers who use the Wing One Place Study website. Transcribing all of these other years is still a goal. But I'm not sure it's a particularly important goal anymore.

My personal standpoint was that where a non-profit organisation, such as a family history society, was already transcribing a census year then that year isn't a priority for me. I believe that family history societies are valuable (particularly once they figure out how they will evolve in the internet age) and I'm not keen on inadvertently cutting off their sources of revenue. The Buckinghamshire Family History Society has the 1851 census available, and the Buckinghamshire Genealogical Society currently has 1861 and 1881 (and 1891 which I've already done for Wing). The 1881 census is freely available via FamilySearch. That leaves the two most recent years, 1901 and 1911, which are available commercially only. These also have the highest population numbers and the most pieces of information to be captured so they would be a very substantial job.

Hands up who likes seeing their ancestors' handwriting? Me too. So I would think any transcription of the 1911 census is somewhat redundant when any sane genealogist would have a clear preference for actually looking at the household schedule completed by their ancestor. I can't provide those, due to copyright, I can only provide transcriptions - useful for me, but you guys are going to need to fling some money at the big commercial providers to get what you want.

Something that might be worth me investing a bit of time in is updating my 1911 enumerators summary spreadsheet to add any other surnames that appear in each household. That would make that spreadsheet a more useful finding aid for me (if I'm going through looking for a surname I tend to want to grab all instances of it, rather than just one individual or a particular family group), but I'm not sure if this would be something that is useful for the website. It would only take around half a day to flick through and do this.

This leaves the 1901 census as the next census I should transcribe. That year there were 1740 individuals in Wing, with both enumeration districts completed by gentlemen with fairly readable handwriting (hurray!). If I average out 3 minutes per person for the transcribing and checking process (including the head-scratching and investigation phase for unknown place-names and the like), it should take around 87 hours. Assuming I can find 4 hours a week for this project (I work full-time and should focus more on limiting the amount of leisure time I stare at a computer), that's 22 weeks to complete, or around 5 months. I'm finding it difficult to get excited about now that I've done the numbers. I'm sure there's other things that I would find more fulfilling than this particular project right now.

I've already ended up a a different place than expected by taking this fresh look at things - previously I'd been waiting until 1 Jan 2012 when that previously-redacted infirmity column on the 1911 census becomes available so that I could get started on the 1911 census. Now I can park that project - and simply check out the infirmities of my own families instead!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The story so far

[This post got a little long and cathartic. I hope that some of you will stay with me for this and follow-up posts.]

As tends to happen, this month I had a last-minute panic about what the January update to the website might be, and specifically how on earth I was going to get it ready in time once I decided what to do! I do think it's important to have an update each month but over time any kind of planning as to what that new content might be has completely gone out the window. This is not good for my stress levels, and not good for the one-place study either. So instead of an update this month I've decided to evaluate what I've achieved so far, along with what I hope to complete over the coming year.

The Wing One Place Study was "born" in late 2004. Initially it was just the 1841 census for Wing, fully transcribed the old-school way. That's typing it up while looking at the census film at the local LDS Family History Centre - yes, 2004, a time before each census was all over the internet, a time when you couldn't even purchase scans of the census on CD so work could be done in your own time at home. In short, a time when a young woman in a business suit showing up at the LDS FHC on her lunchbreak, laptop in hand, raised eyebrows. Back then, the only records otherwise available online for Wing were the 1881 census transcription and the extracts of the Wing parish registers for baptisms and marriages 1546 to 1881 (*cough* peppered with omissions) that could be found in the IGI.

In September 2005 I transferred the 1841 census and a few other bits and pieces to the study's own domain name, and kicked off things in earnest. Since then, three census years have been fully transcribed with up to 1800 people in each, 58 years of baptisms, 34 years of marriages, 127 years of burials, 23 directories, 43 wills, 56 gravestones, 13 other types of lists of landowners/residents from 1522 to 1873,  220 military men identified, 67 criminals, dozens of Wing non-conformist families, three-and-a-half key industries profiled, and various other pages of snippets of data have been collated.

The Wing OPS costs around NZ $220 a year in hosting/domain costs - that's currently around £110. However the real cost is obviously the time involved. And, honestly, the stress I create for myself from my expectation that every record should already be transcribed, every idea should already be fully realised, and every email should be able to be promptly answered without a thousand apologies for the information I might be able to provide if only I had been able to do things as completely as I should have. Being a Type A personality is not helpful sometimes.

As we head into 2012, digital scans of each census released to date along with more or more-commonly-less reliable census indices are easily accessible on each of the main commercial providers. It looks like 2012 will be the year of the parish registers race as these are also being scanned and indexed by those sites. Does this make an OPSer's efforts in fully transcribing each census and parish register somewhat redundant?

In follow-up posts I'll try and work out what the gameplan should be for the coming year - which information would add most value, what a realistic workload for the project might look like, and create a master list of all those things floating around in my head (or on my computer) that may or may not make the 2012 list. Please do leave some feedback in the comments, particularly if you have ancestors from Wing. After seven years I need an outside perspective!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas everyone!

It's a sunny Christmas day here in NZ (well, it mostly is if I ignore the cloud that's blocking the sun as I type this), just the way we like it, the turkey (this year it's rum glazed with mango and green banana stuffing - what on earth would my ancestors have made of that) is in the oven and it's almost time to start gathering together. I hope you all get the Christmas day you are wishing for.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

No December update

There won't be an update to the website this month. Right now I'm on a plane between Antigua and London, spending time with current generations of the family tree. See you next month!

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