International Journal on Digital Libraries

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 159–174 | Cite as

A semantic architecture for preserving and interpreting the information contained in Irish historical vital records

  • Christophe DebruyneEmail author
  • Oya Deniz Beyan
  • Rebecca Grant
  • Sandra Collins
  • Stefan Decker
  • Natalie Harrower


Irish Record Linkage 1864–1913 is a multi-disciplinary project that started in 2014 aiming to create a platform for analyzing events captured in historical birth, marriage, and death records by applying semantic technologies for annotating, storing, and inferring information from the data contained in those records. This enables researchers to, among other things, investigate to what extent maternal and infant mortality rates were underreported. We report on the semantic architecture, provide motivation for the adoption of RDF and Linked Data principles, and elaborate on the ontology construction process that was influenced by both the requirements of the digital archivists and historians. Concerns of digital archivists include the preservation of the archival record and following best practices in preservation, cataloguing, and data protection. The historians in this project wish to discover certain patterns in those vital records. An important aspect of the semantic architecture is the clear separation of concerns that reflects those distinct requirements—the transcription and archival authenticity of the register pages and the interpretation of the transcribed data—that led to the creation of two distinct ontologies and knowledge bases. The advantage of this clear separation is the transcription of register pages resulted in a reusable data set fit for other research purposes. These transcriptions were enriched with metadata according to best practices in archiving for ingestion in suitable long-term digital preservation platforms.


Historical vital records Cultural heritage Linked data Ontology engineering Preservation 


  1. 1.
    First Annual Report of the Registrar-General of Marriages, Births, and Deaths in Ireland. ts/birthsdm/archivedreports/P-VS,1864 (1869). Accessed Dec 2015
  2. 2.
    Aloia, N., Papatheodorou, C., Gavrilis, D., Debole, F., Meghini, C.: Describing research data: A case study for archaeology. In: Meersman, R., Panetto, H., Dillon, T.S., Missikoff, T.S., Liu, L., Pastor, O., Cuzzocrea, A., Sellis T.K. (Eds.) On the Move to Meaningful Internet Systems: OTM 2014 Conferences—Confederated International Conferences: CoopIS, and ODBASE 2014, Amantea, Italy, October 27-31, 2014, Proceedings, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 8841, pp. 768–775. Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-662-45563-0_48 (2014)
  3. 3.
    Arenas, M., Bertails, A., Prudhommeaux, E., Sequeda, J.: A direct mapping of relational data to RDF. W3C Recommendation, W3C. URL: (2012). Accessed Dec 2015
  4. 4.
    Auer, S., Bizer, C., Kobilarov, G., Lehmann, J., Cyganiak, R., Ives, Z.G.: DBpedia: a nucleus for a web of open data. In: Aberer, K. Choi, K. Noy, N.F., Allemang, D. Lee, K., Nixon, L.J.B., Golbeck, J., Mika, P., Maynard, D., Mizoguchi, R., Schreiber, G., Cudré-Mauroux P. (Eds.) The Semantic Web, 6th International Semantic Web Conference, 2nd Asian Semantic Web Conference, ISWC 2007 + ASWC 2007, Busan, Korea, November 11–15, 2007., Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 4825, pp. 722–735. Springer (2007)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Berners-Lee, T.: Relational databases on the semantic web. (last retrieved December 2015) (1998)
  6. 6.
    Berners-Lee, T.: Linked data—design issues. Last accessed: June 7th, 2015. URL: (2006). Accessed Dec 2015
  7. 7.
    Beyan, O., Breathnach, C., Collins, S., Debruyne, C., Decker, S., Grant, D., Grant, R., Gurrin, B.: Towards linked vital registration data for reconstituting families and creating longitudinal health histories. In: KR4HC Workshop (in conjunction with KR 2014), pp. 181–187 (2014)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bischof, S., Decker, S., Krennwallner, T., Lopes, N., Polleres, A.: Mapping between RDF and XML with XSPARQL. J. Data Semantics 1(3), 147–185 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bizer, C.: D2R MAP—a database to RDF mapping language. In: King, I., Máray T. (Eds.) Proceedings of the Twelfth International World Wide Web Conference-Posters, WWW 2003, Budapest, Hungary (2003)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bizer, C., Heath, T., Berners-Lee, T.: Linked data—the story so far. Int. J. Semantic Web Inf. Syst. 5(3), 1–22 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Boonstra, O., Breure, L., Doorn, P.: Past, present and future of historical information science. Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung pp. 4–132 (2004)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Bustillo, M., Collins, S., Gallagher, D., Grant, R., Harrower, N., Kenny, S., Ní Cholla, R., O’Carroll, A., Redmond, S., Webb, S.: Dublin Core and the Digital Repository of Ireland (Grant, R. ed.). Tech. rep., Maynooth: Maynooth University; Dublin: Trinity College Dublin; Dublin: Royal Irish Academy; Galway: National University of Ireland, Galway (2014)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Bustillo, M., Collins, S., Gallagher, D., Grant, R., Harrower, N., Kenny, S., Ní Cholla, R., O’Carroll, A., Redmond, S., Webb, S.: Qualified Dublin Core and the Digital Repository of Ireland (Grant, R. ed.). Tech. rep., Maynooth: Maynooth University; Dublin: Trinity College Dublin; Dublin: Royal Irish Academy; Galway: National University of Ireland, Galway (2015)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Bustillo, M., Grant, R., Kenny, S., Martínez-García, A., McGoohan, C., Ní Cholla, R., O’Carroll, A., O’Neill, J., Redmond, S., Webb, S.: MODS and the Digital Repository of Ireland (Grant, R. ed.). Tech. rep., Maynooth: Maynooth University; Dublin: Trinity College Dublin; Dublin: Royal Irish Academy; Galway: National University of Ireland, Galway (2016)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Coppens, S., Mannens, E., Van Deursen, D., Hochstenbach, P., Janssens, B., Van de Walle, R.: Publishing provenance information on the web using the memento datetime content negotiation. In: Bizer, C., Heath, T., Berners-Lee, T., Hausenblas M. (Eds.) WWW2011 Workshop on Linked Data on the Web, Hyderabad, India, 2011, CEUR Workshop Proceedings, vol. 813. (2011)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Coppens, S., Verborgh, R., Peyrard, S., Ford, K., Creighton, T., Guenther, R., Mannens, E., Van de Walle, R.: PREMIS OWL - A semantic long-term preservation model. Int. J. on Digital Libraries 15(2-4), 87–101. doi: 10.1007/s00799-014-0136-9 (2015)
  17. 17.
    Das, S., Sundara, S., Cyganiak, R.: R2RML: RDB to RDF Mapping Language. W3C Recommendation, W3C. URL: (2012). Accessed Dec 2015
  18. 18.
    Debruyne, C., Beyan, O.D., Grant, R., Collins, S., Decker, S.: On a linked data platform for irish historical vital records. In: Kapidakis, S., Mazurek, C., Werla, M. (Eds.) Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries—19th International Conference on Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries, TPDL 2015, Poznań, Poland, September 14–18, 2015. Proceedings, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 9316, pp. 99–110. Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-24592-8_8 (2015)
  19. 19.
    Dell’Aglio, D., Polleres, A., Lopes, N., Bischof, S.: Querying the web of data with XSPARQL 1.1. In: Verborgh, R., Mannens E. (eds.) Proceedings of the ISWC Developers Workshop 2014, co-located with the 13th International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC 2014), Riva del Garda, Italy, October 19, 2014., CEUR Workshop Proceedings, vol. 1268, pp. 113–118. (2014)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Feeney, K.C., O’Sullivan, D., Tai, W., Brennan, R.: Improving curated web-data quality with structured harvesting and assessment. Int. J. Semantic Web Inf. Syst. 10(2), 35–62. doi: 10.4018/ijswis.2014040103 (2014)
  21. 21.
    Fox, M.S., Gruninger, M.: Enterprise modeling. AI Magazine 19(3), 109–121 (1998)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Frontini, F., Brando, C., Ganascia, J.: Semantic web based named entity linking for digital humanities and heritage texts. In: Zucker et al. [35], pp. 77–88. URL:
  23. 23.
    Grant, D., Debruyne, C., Grant, R., Collins, S.: Creating and consuming metadata from transcribed historical vital records for ingestion in a long-term digital preservation platform. In: Ciuciu, I., Panetto, H., Debruyne, C., Aubry, A., Bollen, P., Valencia-García, A.R., Mishra, A., Fensel, A., Ferri, F. (Eds.) On the Move to Meaningful Internet Systems: OTM 2015 Workshops, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 9416, pp. 445–450. Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-26138-6_47 (2015)
  24. 24.
    Grüninger, M., Fox, M.S.: The role of competency questions in enterprise engineering. In: BenchmarkingTheory and Practice, pp. 22–31. Springer (1995)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Lopes, N., Grant, R., Ó Raghallaigh, B., Ó Carragáin, E., Collins, S., Decker, S.: Linked Logainm: Enhancing Library Metadata Using Linked Data of Irish Place Names. In: Bolikowski, L., Casarosa, V., Goodale, P. Houssos, N. Manghi, P., Schirrwagen J. (Eds.) Theory and practice of digital libraries—TPDL 2013 Selected Workshops - LCPD 2013, SUEDL 2013, DataCur 2013, Held in Valletta, Malta, September 22-26, 2013. Revised Selected Papers, Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol. 416, pp. 65–76. Springer (2014)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    McGuinness, D., Lebo, T., Sahoo, S.: PROV-O: The PROV ontology. W3C Recommendation, W3C (2013)
  27. 27.
    Meroño-Peñuela, A., Ashkpour, A., van Erp, M., Mandemakers, K., Breure, L., Scharnhorst, A., Schlobach, S., van Harmelen, F.: Semantic technologies for historical research: a survey. Semantic Web 6(6), 539–564. doi: 10.3233/SW-140158 (2015)
  28. 28.
    Motik, B., Horrocks, I.: OWL Datatypes: Design and Implementation. In: Sheth, A.P., Staab, S., Dean, M., Paolucci, M., Maynard, D. Finin, T.W., Thirunarayan K. (Eds.) The Semantic Web - ISWC 2008, 7th International Semantic Web Conference, ISWC 2008, Karlsruhe, Germany, October 26-30, 2008. Proceedings, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 5318, pp. 307–322. Springer (2008)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Newcombe, H.B., Kennedy, J.M.: Record linkage: Making maximum use of the discriminating power of identifying information. Commun. ACM 5(11), 563–566. doi: 10.1145/368996.369026 (1962)
  30. 30.
    Orgel, T., Höffernig, M., Bailer, W., Russegger, S.: A metadata model and mapping approach for facilitating access to heterogeneous cultural heritage assets. Int. J. on Digital Libraries 15(2-4), 189–207. doi: 10.1007/s00799-015-0138-2 (2015)
  31. 31.
    Rademaker, A., Oliveira, D., de Paiva, V., Higuchi, S., Sá, A., Alvim, M.: A linked open data architecture for the historical archives of the getulio vargas foundation. Int. J. on Digital Libraries 15(2-4), 153–167 (2015). doi: 10.1007/s00799-015-0147-1
  32. 32.
    Tounsi, M., Faron-Zucker, C., Zucker, A., Villata, S., Cabrio, E.: Studying the history of pre-modern zoology with linked data and vocabularies. In: Zucker et al. [35], pp. 7–14. URL:
  33. 33.
    Unbehauen, J., Hellmann, S., Auer, S., Stadler, C.: Knowledge extraction from structured sources. In: Ceri, S., Brambilla M. (Eds.) Search computing - broadening web search, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 7538, pp. 34–52. Springer. DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-34213-4_3. URL: (2012)
  34. 34.
    Woodbury, C.: Automatic extraction from and reasoning about genealogical records: A prototype. Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA (2010)Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Zucker, A., Draelants, I., Faron-Zucker, C., Monnin, A. (Eds.): Proceedings of the First International Workshop Semantic Web for Scientific Heritage at the 12th ESWC 2015 Conference, Portorož, Slovenia, June 1st, 2015, CEUR Workshop Proceedings, vol. 1364. URL: (2015)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ADAPT CentreTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.WISE LabVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium
  3. 3.RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  4. 4.Royal Irish AcademyDublin 2Ireland
  5. 5.National Library of IrelandDublin 2Ireland
  6. 6.Fraunhofer FITSchloss BirlinghovenSanktGermany

Personalised recommendations