Irish Roots


November 26th 2012

Problems with the Tithe Books

John Grenham

Mistranscriptions are the price we have to pay for the convenience of researching online. Unwelcome and infuriating they can be, but when kept to a reasonable level and accompanied by record images, they are a price well worth paying - the 1901/1911 census site makes the case very persuasively.

So when readers began to point out mistakes in the new National Archives Tithe Books site - titheapplotmentbooks.nationalarchives.ie - I just took a deep breath and tried to take the broader view. Alright, maybe Flatley is misread in no fewer than ten different ways in a single parish, (Knock in Mayo and Flattey, Hattley, Halley, Hattely, Hatley, Huttley, Slatterly, Slattery, Thally, and Harley, just for the record). But the record images are still there and can be searched manually if need be.

Then some hair-raising peculiarities started to emerge in browsing the record images. Dunmore in Galway is lumped in with Dunmore in Kilkenny. Caher in South Tipperary is mixed in with Caher in Kerry. Aglish in North Tipperary becomes Aglish in Waterford. It appears that the notion that there might be two parishes with the same name never crossed the transcribers' minds. God help anyone searching in one of the four separate parishes in Galway called Ballynakill. The only possible conclusion is that no checking of the transcriptions took place. And the result is a bit of a dog's dinner.

Let me be absolutely clear: the National Archives staff are not to blame for this. They are doing heroic work under atrocious conditions. The fault lies squarely with their masters in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who give their underlings a ball of string and a piece of Blu-tack and tell them to build the Taj Mahal. If the Archives had control of its own budget, something like this just would not happen. And if ever there was an argument against giving civil servants direct control of our cultural institutions, this is it.

A postscript: the Archives have just responded to the (wave of) criticism of the quality of the transcripts with a clarification of where responsibility lies (here), and a detailed error correction function on the search page (example here). Hats off to them.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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