Abstract Demolink Compared to Automatic and Manual Systems

1. Introduction

The family reconstruction or reconstitution technique developed by Louis Henry and Michel Fleury in the early 1950s made more sophisticated historical demographic analyses possible. The technique, however, developed as it was for small French parishes, encountered difficulties when reconstructing families in bigger areas. The most important problem is the extremely time consuming manual procedure. The technique has also been criticized because stable, resident farmer families were more successfully reconstructed than more mobile families.

To counteract these deficiencies, different strategies have been adopted. In the 1970s and 1980s there were several attempts to automate family reconstitution, or what has become known as record linkage. Not only families but also individual life cycles were reconstructed. Some of these attempts were limited in scope, others more ambitious [Note 1]

The advantages of automatic record linkage are obvious: once the source material is computerized and the system is developed, record linkage is accomplished very quickly. Moreover, the algorithms make the linkage transparent and completely consistent. However, the programs will create more erroneous links than the corresponding manual procedures. Fully automatic systems cannot handle non-systematic errors in the sources. Where it is important that all the links are correct, as in genealogical and some medical studies, the results from fully automatic record linkage systems cannot be used. This is because such programs choose according to probabilities or at random when presented with more than one possible alternative.

The pioneers were optimistic about the future for automatic record linking, but the cost of developing and maintaining such systems has been so high that there are few systems still in use today. The systems are not so general that they can be used for all types of data. New source material and research projects demand comprehensive adaptations. Already in the 1970s some semi-automated procedures were developed, mostly conceived as preliminary or provisional pending the development of fully automatic systems or as small scale alternatives to the more costly automatic systems [Katz and Tiller 1972, M.P. Gutmann 1977.]


Abstract Demolink Compared to Automatic and Manual Systems

Interactive Record Linkage: The Cumulative Construction of Life Courses
Eli Fure
© 2000 Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ISSN 1435-9871