September 2012


Under the Freedom of Information Act please tell me if the 1911 census transcription was undertaken by prisoners?


Information provided


The answer to the specific FOI request regarding the transcription of the 1911 census is no, prisoners did not carry out the transcription of the 1911 census as it appears on

It will be helpful to provide further information regarding the 1911 census transcription process.

In choosing a licensee for the 1911 census, The National Archives needed to partner with an organisation with a sufficient number of highly qualified staff experienced in producing a successful online service. This is a tried and tested process, which has worked effectively for other censuses which have been made available online. In the case of the 1911 census we entered into a partnership with Findmypast.

Findmypast elected to have the 1911 census transcribed by a specialist transcription contractor in the Philippines. Brightsolid, the parent company of Findmypast, commissioned Ernst and Young to audit the Philippines contractor responsible for the transcription process and found it to be an ethical employer with good working conditions. 

Transcription of the 1911 census was particularly challenging as, unlike previous censuses, these records were handwritten by each individual head of household, rather than by an enumerator. This means there is a wide variety in the quality and condition of the writing to be transcribed. During the transcription process, Findmypast applied a number of processes (developed during their many years' experience of digitising censuses and other historical documents) to correct the most obvious errors and keep inaccuracy to a minimum. All of the transcriptions underwent batch sampling, by the transcription house, by The National Archives and by Findmypast's in-house Quality Control team. Any batch failing to meet the required level of accuracy was rejected and re-keyed.

Findmypast are committed to continuing to improve the quality of the transcription over time by applying 'data standardisation' processes. This is basically a set of rules that they develop over time as they identify errors and apply to the data. Basic examples of the standardisation processes that they apply include converting 'Geo' to 'George', showing wives and daughters as female and listing records from Kent, Surrey and Middlesex as 'London' if they fall within the metropolitan London area. They are developing and applying more data standardisations over time to eliminate more of the current transcription errors and to make searching easier, but some of these processes are much easier to apply once the data is complete.

In addition to this Findmypast operate a policy of continuous data improvement and to that end there are clear instructions on the website of how to report transcription errors - when viewing the transcribed data there is a Report Error tab for each and every line.  Brightsolid are committed to reviewing each suggested correction within 30 days of the correction being submitted and if applicable amend the details accordingly thereafter.

For further information about the transcription process please contact

It is important to remember that the transcription is designed as a finding aid for the original documents, which should be viewed as the 'source of truth'; happily most users are able to find their ancestors despite the inevitable presence of some transcription errors.