Transcription errors in online records

Last night, given nothing worth watching on the telly, I logged onto Ancestry to research into my earlier Senior ancestors. I’m lucky in that they lived within the area covered by the West Yorkshire parish records which have been digitised, transcribed and indexed. However, I do have to question the quality of the transcribing! I was amazed at how whoever transcribed the records for Royston managed to read the surname Senior or Senyer. Failing to find some things I thought ought to be there, I ended up trawling through the digitised records page by page, and there they were. They’d simply been misread and indexed under a strange surname instead of their correct one.

I do know how hard it can be to read old writing, and when transcribing is done by someone without any local knowledge it will be very tricky to do it well, but some of the errors can seem a bit extreme.

I’ve also found transcribing errors to be a common problem when using Ancestry’s census records. Again, some of my ancestors have been misnamed quite badly because the transcriber wasn’t exactly brilliant at reading the writing.

I’m not knocking Ancestry. My subscription is money extremely well spent, and because of Ancestry I’ve been able to track down an enormous number of ancestors, all from the comfort of the computer in my dining room (very conveniently located not far from the kettle and jar of tea bags in the kitchen).

However, if you use Ancestry, do be very flexible with how you spell names when doing a search. Learn how to use wildcards. Search with other known criteria instead of surnames (e.g. put in first name, age and location but no surname and then see what comes up – I’ve found a lot of ‘missing’ people that way).

Also, if you come across a transcription error, enter a correction. Ancestry adds user corrections to the indexes, so by flagging it up and putting in the correct name you’ll be helping anyone else who comes along and is researching the same families.

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One response to “Transcription errors in online records

  1. Another tip if you’re completely stuck is to try searching on FindMyPast where (in my experience) the transcriptions are more accurate. You can always just buy a few credits for FMP and then go back to Ancestry when you’ve found what you were looking for. I found some ‘missing’ entries in this way. And I definitely agree about entering the corrections!

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