[History by Numbers] Counting the crowds
A comb through the digital 'card catalogues' of big genealogy data websites
If you’re tracing your family tree, what are the chances of finding your ancestor in a particular set of records? There’s no simple answer to that, of course, given that it will depend on how comprehensive the record set is, how complete it is, how accurate it is and its timespan and geographical coverage, not to mention whether your ancestor was a law-abiding citizen or lived in the shadows.
Every month sites such as Findmypast and TheGenealogist in particular have got into a rhythm of releasing new data sets, which can be very useful. After a while, thoough, it’s easy to develop statistical fatigue – 30,000 new records of Kentish whelk pickers released, 120,000 birth records from the county of Borsetshire, and so on.
Having a sense of the growing population, of the nation as a whole, and indeed smaller regions such as counties or individual towns, can help. This is where the website A Vision of Britain Through Time (www.visionofbritain.org.uk), which I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, can certainly help. Look up Leeds, for example, and you can see (at www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10055751/cube/TOT_POP) how the population soared steadily from 30,669 in 1801 to 263,683 in 1911. That sort of context can help you work out how useful a new record collection might be.
Three of the big genealogy data websites provide a handy way to see how many records there are in all of their collections, so I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at what they have for the British Isles.