Beware the OCR

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been trawling Trove looking for “Missing friends” + “County Clare”. There’s certainly been some interesting stories among them, that’s for sure: long silences, unknown deaths and as time passes, the search for family and descendants in estate proceedings. Among them are examples of searches from the USA, Canada and Britain.

One story that caught my eye was in The Advocate lauding their own success at finding lost relatives.


About 12 months ago we pointed out, how this journal, through its advertising columns, traced the relatives of two families who had been separated for years—in one case over 60 years. We now call attention to two more cases of relatives being brought into communication with each other through the medium of “The Advocate.” … Last month, Dr. T. P. M’lnerney sent the following inquiry, which appeared in “The Advocate” :— M’INERNEY.—Wanted, information of Matthew and Michael M’lnerney, and their sister, Honora Vaughan, who came to Australia about 1850 (my emphasis). Their brother, Dennis M’Inerney, who was born at O’Callaghan Mills, County Clare, Ireland, went to America about the same year. A relative in America wants the information.

The following letter from Dr. M’lnerney shows how successful we have been in the matter :— To the Editor of “The Advocate.” Dear Sir, – To know that your columns are widely read must be a gratification to you. Here is a conclusive proof. In April last I received a letter from Iowa, America, asking if I could give the writer any information concerning Matthew and Michael M’Inerney who left County Clare for Australia. I tried hard to oblige my correspondent. I wrote letters to all persons whom I thought might be able to give any information -but without success. I was about to abandon my quest when I I thought of “The Advocate” and in your issue of the 29th ult, a short advertisement appeared. Success instantly followed. The missing friends were discovered. Relatives in America and Australia will be united. Your columns succeeded where my efforts failed. I rejoice to find you have so many careful readers—readers, too, who even read advertisements. Gratefully yours,

P. M’INERNEY. Aug. 12. 1911.

1911 ‘MISSING RELATIVES.’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 19 August, p. 25. , viewed 28 May 2016,

I couldn’t recall seeing the people mentioned in this story, so I searched my indexes. Nope, not there. Back to Trove and searching for various combinations came up with no result, until I changed it to America and Missing Friends. This is what came up in the text from the OCR (optical character recognistion). No wonder it hadn’t turned up in my primary search or it my subsequent searches (McInerney, County Clare, Matthew McInerney, O’Callaghan’s Mills).


It wasn’t as if the scanning was all that unclear so who knows what went wrong.

McInerney OCM and America

1911 ‘Advertising’, Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), 29 July, p. 31. , viewed 17 Jun 2016,

The text has now been corrected so future searchers should find it quite easily, but it’s a lesson on how we can over-rely on the OCR and assume something wasn’t reported in the paper.

What is truly remarkable about the story, though, is how quickly the problem had been solved. The original advertisement was published on 29 July and just three weeks later the newspaper had news that contact had been made with family members who’d been separated for 6o years. Isn’t that remarkable in the pre-digital era…or in any era, really. And a bonus: I’ve acquired more East Clare emigrants.

Wouldn’t you love to know the stories that flowed between the branches of the family on two continents?

I wonder if any of my readers are descendants of Michael, Matthew, Honora or Dennis?