Untapped history - can you help?

Submitted by David on Thu, 07/08/2010 - 21:19

I've got an idea to bring some more HK history out into the light. I can't do it alone, so I'm asking for your help.


The old Hong Kong Jurors Lists contain lots of valuable information. But, they're hidden away, and not very easy to search. We can fix those problems, and at the same time make its easier to spot new patterns in the information:

Read on for more detail about the What, Why, and How - or skip straight to the end and sign up!

What are the Jurors Lists?

Each year the government published a list of men eligible to serve as jurors in the courts. For each person they showed the full name, business title, employer, and residential address. HKGRO has copies from 1894 to 1941.

They're useful tools to answer a variety of questions about old Hong Kong.

eg If you're looking for a person, you can find out their full name, when they were in Hong Kong, where they worked, what they did, and where they lived. Because we have almost 50 years of lists, you can also see how people moved around over that time.

Similarly for buildings, you can confirm building names and addresses, which years a building existed, and what type of people lived there. (eg was it a private residence, or a certain company's staff quarters, or ...?)

Why will the new format be better?

Wider reach: Currently you have to know about the HKGRO service before you can search through the lists. The new format will be on the open web, so anyone using Google to searching for an ancestor's details, for example, will now be able to find them.

Faster search: If you search for a word, eg Jardine, in the current format, it tells you which years' lists contain that word. But then you need to check each list visually to find where the word is. In the new format you can use your browser's search feature to take you straight to every occurrence of the word you are looking for.

Uncover new patterns: If you look at the sample in the new format, you can choose any column to sort the table. eg sort by Company to get a feel for which companies were most widely represented in a given year, suggesting a ranking for companies at that time.

More history: The more easily-accessible information there is available, the more history we'll hear from people that are searching. Start the snowball rolling!

How will this work?

I'm looking for people to help type in one page of the list into a spreadsheet (I'll supply a template). Then I'll gather the results and format them into a sortable list like the sample shown earlier.

It took me 50 minutes, say an hour, to type in that first page sample. So the simple help I'd need is around an hour of your time to type in a page.

The 1894 list is 11 pages long. If there are five of us each able to type in a page a week, that would take two weeks to finish.

More people, faster to finish.

And it gets easier. eg the 1895 list looks worse, as it is one page longer. BUT, around three-quarters of its names are the same as 1894 list. Overall it will be much quicker to finish.

Sign up

You can help type in a page? Great! Please leave a comment below (or send me an email), and I'll be in touch.

Got a bigger group (History club? Classes learning typing?) that could tackle a whole year's list, even better!

Know anyone that might be interested to join in? Please let them know about what we're doing.

And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Regards, David


Count me in David. Glad to be of help after all you and your community have done for me. Assume even a non tekkie can do this.

You have my email.



It sounds like a great idea and I have no doubt that HK historians will find the finished article extremely useful as a point of reference. 

I am just thinking whether it would be possible to electronically convert these pages into a search-able file.  May be we can use OCR for this?

My experience transcribing  the "Hong Kong Directory"
( http://www.stanleymarket.org/PEAK/directories.htm ) was that the OCR was of such poor quality, that the corrections and cut-and-paste took longer than re-typing.

I also used voice-recognition software and was amazed how fast the data-entry went, and how well the software spelled the surnames - frequently better than I could.

Submitted by
Anonymous (not verified)
Fri, 07/09/2010 - 12:31

I hope the HKU won't mind you reworking their public online resources like this, and decide to restrict the rest of their online material. I doubt they would, but it might be worth running your idea by them first, just as a courtesy. Academics can be very petty sometimes.

Hi there,

Modern day consumer OCR requires a minimum of Laser Printer quality print outs for just about slightly more than 95% accuracy and you still have to go through the results manually.  If you consider the total time needed starting from flipping the pages and wait for the consumer level flatbed scanner for scanning a page...............   Those lists were photo copies (maybe in micro-films) of old documents, I think.    An experienced touch typist with good eyes would do it more accurrately in less time.

Best Regards,


Thanks to everyone that's replied. From the little counter top left you can see the first 9 pages are all underway.

Barters, yes please to your offer of help. If you send me your email address I'll send you page 10 to get started on.

Any takers for the final page, #11 ?

Thanks again, David

i would be happy to lend a hand.  would need to test my software with your macro to make sure there is a match first.

Good news, I've had two more offers of help, so all 11 pages are out. Indeed, the first two pages are back already - thanks to Phil & Carla for the fast turnaround.

Some points you've raised:

Sean: Assume even a non tekkie can do this.

Definitely, all you need is the ability to type (or the persuasive powers to convince one of your friends / relatives colleagues to type!)

AE: May be we can use OCR for this?

Possibly for the first list, but then when we're merging new lists into old it's definietly going to be quicker to do it manually. Thanks to Thomas and Annelise for the extra info on this.

Anon: I hope the HKU won't mind you reworking their public online resources like this, and decide to restrict the rest of their online material. I doubt they would...

I doubt they would too.

I'll let everyone know once the first list is complete, and we're ready to start the second list. As there are only a few changes from year to year, I'm hoping the second list will take less work, around 20-30 minutes a page.

Thanks & regards, David

Hi David,

I'm so glad you've started this AND got volunteers because I actually started doing exactly this about 4 years ago using excel.  I've got every jury list from 1855 through to 1940.

My idea was to track certain residences and who lived in them through the years of various relatives.  But the whole thing was too big for me to do and very time consuming. someone from the RAS HK got very excited when I told them what I was trying to do, but didn't offere to help.  Anyway I abandoned it.

Send me a page, I'll do one for you.


I've included accents and umlauts, but I'm not sure if they search properly.
Do we want exact transcriptions, or do we need to standardize company names and abbrevations (eg. Company Limited, Co. Ltd, - and Rd. and St. for Road and street)


Liz: I actually started doing exactly this about 4 years ago using excel.

My guess is that these lists have already been typed out many times over, but with each person typing just what's of use to their project (a person, a company, a building, etc). So the idea here is to get it all out onto the web in one lump, and then see what people can discover from it.

But the whole thing was too big for me to do and very time consuming.

Yes, it's too much to tackle alone, but definitely doable if we take it in turn.

Send me a page, I'll do one for you.

Looks like we're all set for the 1894 list (good to see there's another 30 years or so to do after we've finished 1894-1941!!). But I hope you'll join in on future lists.

Annelise: I've included accents and umlauts, but I'm not sure if they search properly.
Do we want exact transcriptions, or do we need to standardize company names and abbrevations (eg. Company Limited, Co. Ltd, - and Rd. and St. for Road and street)

Good points. Let's stick to exact transcriptions, with the exception we'll use just the standard A-Z alphabet, so no umlauts or accents. I'll make that clearer for the next round.

regards, David

Hello David and company, I'd love to join the merry gang of typists; it's the least I can do in return for the many pleasures of Gwulo. (I just peeped at the HKGRO 1939 list and found my grandfather and his address; until about 10 minutes ago I had never known where he lived!)

What year/page shall I embark on?

Sorry, I've only just seen your question.  Actually, I seem to have deleted what I did (which means I hadn't done much), so you're definitely not wasting time by doing them!  I'll be able to volunteer to help transcribe after the school holidays, as I have my hands full at the moment entertaining a 9 year old - roll on 8th September!

Hi Alison, welcome to the merry gang!! That's good timing, I've just put up the files & instructions for 1899 today, click here for details.

Thanks very much for joining in, and let me know if you have any questions.

Regards, David

PS Re your grandfather in 1939 - I'm looking forward to putting the later years up. They'll be useful for family research around the pre-war years, and I hope they'll trigger more sharing of family history. What was your grandfather doing here at that time?

I'm very grateful for all the help in typing up these lists. But I also want to make sure this hard work is having some effect. The original goal is provide the information to more people in an easily searchable format. To check if that's working, I've looked at the first list we typed (1894), and how people arrived there.

I'm pleased to see that many found it via Google, and that the list was related to their search. eg over the first three weeks of August, visitors arrived at the list via these searches:

  • "Bank of China, Japan & The Straits"
  • charles murray adamson
  • herbert william bird and palmer and turner
  • " Belilios & Co."
  • kenneth ross mackenzie+jardine matheson
  • Francisco D'Assis Chan
  • belilios lyndhurst terrace
  • siemssen & co hong kong

The second part of the goal is to learn more about HK history. So I've added this text to each list, which I hope will help:

[Found what you were looking for? If yes, please could you leave a comment below and tell us about your search? We're interested to learn more about the people and companies in these lists. Thanks, David]

Hi David,

I have some time today so will get cracking on the 1899 list.

My grandfather, Thomas Barclay, was chief engineer at the Taikoo Docks (I dare say he never had to pay for sugar!) from 1930 to 1941. I think he resumed that position when he was released from Stanley camp. But internment left him very frail, and he died in 1950. I don't even have a photo of him; we lost all our family artefacts when, during our emigration from HK to Sydney in the '70s, our belongings ''disappeared'' from the docks in Kowloon. Exploring Gwulo has been a great comfort and help to this grumpy exile.

Regards, Alison.

Alison, Thanks for the background on your Grandfather. What a disaster to have had all the family history taken.

Have you seen the Facebook group for families involved with Taikoo Docks? It's a long shot, but I wonder if anyone there would have any group photos from the 1930s - 40s? As Chief Engineer, there's a chance he'd appear in posed group photos.

Regards, David

PS Thanks also for your help typing. Don't forget to leave your 'Started page nnn' comment, so no-one else ends up re-typing your page.