Irish Roots

December 6th, 2010

John Grenham

Immersed yet again in the nitty-gritty of parish register transcripts, it’s impossible not to wonder what the transcribers make of these records as they sit at their monitors in Dacca or Manila or the Shenzen Special Economic Area. With little or no knowledge of English, not to mention Latin, or Irish surnames, or even European surnames, how can they possibly decipher this 200-year-old scrawl, replete with blots and scratches and abbreviations? The truth is, they manage very well indeed. Having had a chance to compare the current transcripts with some of those done by some Irish FÁS schemes in the 1990s, there is no doubt that the foreign transcribers win hands down. Inevitably, there are mistakes of a kind no Irish transcriber would make – there are no Banys, in Cork or anywhere else, though there are lots of Barrys – but the professionalism and double-blind validation systems of these overseas transcribers produce results that are streets ahead of what was possible with the old amateur transcripts piggy-backing on computer skills courses.

What about the morality of using the overseas services? A few things are unarguable. These transcripts and the websites they permit are of undeniable benefit to everyone connected with them, from politicians to librarians to researchers to tourism providers. And the transcribers’ daily pay is only a fraction of the Irish minimum hourly rate. So is this a case of ruthless globalised outsourcing, with Irish workers losing jobs and foreign workers locked in their penury? I don’t think so. The choice is not between having the transcripts done in Ireland or done in the Philippines, the choice is between having them done or not done at all. No jobs have been lost in Ireland, and jobs in these foreign services are highly sought-after and relatively well paid, with skilled transcribers greatly valued. A classic example of Adam Smith’s comparative advantage: win-win.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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