Quantitative Data: Examples of Data Structures

2. Simple Data Structures

2.2 Eighteenth-century Workhouse Admissions Register

St Botolph's Workhouse Register London Lives

This is a register of paupers admitted to a London workhouse in the mid-18th century. For documentation for this source (explaining the table in depth), see: London Lives Workhouse Admission Registers.

This is a more complex source than the first example, for which the choice of software could be more dependent on the nature of the research project.

The register lists in total around 2000 people so is certainly not too large for a spreadsheet. It is mainly text rather than numerical, but it has a regular tabular structure, and several columns consist of easily structured data such as gender, age and dates. The "admitted" and "discharged" columns would probably require some post-collection standardisation to enable analysis.

The first few rows of a table might look like this:

surname given sex age admitted adm_date disch disch_date
Dixon Herbert m 7 P Committe 11/10/1741 died 21/06/????
Middleton James m 37 passd fro: White Chappel 12/10/1741 discharged 28/10/1741
Middleton Elizabeth f 31 passd fro: White Chappel 12/10/1741 died 25/10/1741
Middleton James m 1.5 passd fro: White Chappel 12/10/1741 died 25/10/1741

In terms of data structure, it could be suitable for a spreadsheet which could be used, for example, to explore patterns of gender, age, seasonality, etc in admissions to workhouses.

However, there is a problem with the source that complicates matters: the year of discharge is not consistently recorded even though sometimes it is later than the year of admission. If this information were added from other sources, it would both create extra labour and might require some thought about how to document the insertions. If the sources used for obtaining the additions were being recorded in their own right (rather than just being used as a supplement for this one purpose), it might be more efficient to create two separate, linked tables in a relational database.

Moreover, if the research project involved collecting data from a variety of related records of which workhouse registers were just one (for example, to carry out nominal record linkage), a database would probably be more suitable as it would facilitate collection and linkage of more diverse records.