Identifying the Irish in Textual Records in the Absence of Direct Evidence

 ANN ADAMS, alias RILEY, was indicted for a Misdemeanor. Not Guilty.

                London Jury, before Mr. Recorder.

Is Ann Adams Irish? The above is a London criminal trial transcript from the Old Bailey Proceedings and is a typical example of the type of record that early nineteenth century historians of the Irish in Britain are faced with. From this record, researchers must decide the national identity of the person mentioned therein. Unfortunately for historians, much of the best evidence for identifying the Irish in London is gone. The accents have been silenced, the witnesses who could confirm the Irishness of defendants have long since died, and in most cases no one wrote it down because it wasn’t relevant to the trial. Yet in order to study the group, we need a way to decide which records are pertinent and which are not. We need a ‘sample’.

This talk compares the effectiveness of three techniques for generating that sample by classifying defendants in criminal trials as likely Irish or likely not. These three approaches: nominal record linkage, keyword searching, and surname analysis, were able to identify 1,712 individuals out of 25,000 defendants as Irish despite a lack of direct evidence, providing a usable sample for further study. Both nominal record linkage and keyword searching proved costly approaches, offering limited results. Surname analysis proved by far the most cost effective approach, and had a high degree of accuracy, but causes historians the greatest angst.

I will discuss how I was able to test these three approaches, and how a quantitative analysis of hundreds of thousands of records has allowed me to make qualitative judgments about individuals mentioned in textual records. In the process, this approach has opened up new questions for which historians can find plausible answers about the Irish and crime in Britain, without sacrificing academic rigor.