Via Damien Mulley’s fluffy links the other day I found myself perusing the Irish Motor Directory and Motor Annual 1911-1912 late last night. The directory itself can be found here, hosted by Lurgan Ancestry and while we’re at it, a shout out to My Kerry Ancestors who are talking about this link too. Okay, that’s the commercials out of the way.
I decided to see from it who was the first person in the “I come from a small, small” town where I grew up to register a car, and glanced down through the list looking at the addresses.
The first owner registered in the town where I grew up was my great grandfather, and it looks like he registered a motorbike. My mother is stunned, but was pretty certain that it was him, so I went to the 1911 census to check who of the relevant surname was living on the street concerned at the time, and by process of very simple elimination confirmed that yes. the named owner in question was her grandfather. In 1911, he was 27.
So I could write a bit about the family background but this is a data/tech blog and actually I’m going to write about changes in society.
If you have a look at the Lurgan website above, it’s actually interesting in the questions it leaves unanswered.
- The register classifies vehicles by type – car, charabanc, bicycle, tricar, steam car, steam lorry, dogcart, steam plough. It would be enthralling to know who manufactured these things.
- The register provides the registration numbers and some address information.
- The addresses are interestingly diverse – for example, because I grew up in Cork, I was looking at the IF register – but a number of the addresses are in Dublin and the UK, for example.
- in 1911-1912, there are 239 cars and 146 bikes registered in Cork, but the highest registration number is IF 434 as far as I can see. So I’m interested to see what the gaps are.
- There are county and borough register authorities – I don’t know enough about local government organisation in Ireland in the early 20th century (but then, who does?)
- this document was a reference handbook for motorists. So it was openly available.
That last bit is the bit that interests me. Any motorist in Ireland could have had a list of all the car owners in Ireland, known their names and where they lived, sorted by registration number. This doesn’t happen today and I don’t know if it could. I just googled my own car reg and Motorcheck came up with a background check for the car – but it will not give any personal details about the owner of the car or the address at which they live.
The Reference book for 1911-1912 suggests that there are 9169 vehicles listed in it, split slightly in favour of cars. Registrations would have started in 1903 when the registration system was implemented first (citation – Wikipedia but I don’t think there’s much arguing here). The series for Cork, IF, started being used in 1903 and eventually ran out in 1935. The number/index letters were reversed and used again later between 1975 and 1976. So the only conclusion that I can draw about my grandfather’s bike is that it was registered at some stage between 1903 and 1911, and the likelihood, I suspect, closer to 1903 than 1911 based on the numbers.
For comparison, 86,932 new cars were registered in Ireland in 2012. (Summary of Statistical Yearbook of Ireland, 2012). The 1911-1912 Reference Book was compiled by Henry G. Tempest and given the available communications options, it’s fair to say that to compile and print that information for over 9,000 vehicles was an achievement but I couldn’t see him doing it for nearly 90,000 new cars, never mind all the cars still on the road from prior to 2012.
And times have changed. We are more concerned about personal data. For years, people have been applying their right not to be listed in the phone directory, and I’m not sure anyone would want their address details along with details about their car in any easily accessible database for various reasons including, no doubt, not wanting to have their movements identified too easily, or not being easy prey for thieves.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t thinking of ways I could analyse this data in more detail and wondering what other extraneous data sources could be used to enhance it (and not just, for example, the 1911 census).