From the archives: The development of the Navrongo Historical Demographic Database

Edward Morgan, Unaffiliated

An absence of reliable censuses and complete civil registration systems has left a large gap in the knowledge of even recent African demographic history. In other regions, such as Europe, prior to modern methods of data collection, our understanding of past demographic patterns has been guided by the entries made in church records and other institutions. For Europe, extensive sets of historical archives exist and much work has been done to analyse them. On the other hand, in Africa, data concerning vital events is far less extensive.

Prior to the beginning of data collection for the Navrongo Health and Demographic Surveillance Survey in 1993, little is known about the demographic history of Northern Ghana. This region of Ghana enjoys the presence of the catholic church in Navrongo. When founded in 1906, it was the first catholic missionary in the country, and has since been home to a growing set of parish records. The aim of this study is to reconstruct historical demographic trends using recently collected parish cards from the catholic church in Navrongo. Parish cards of this kind offer great promise for demographic reconstruction, as they often contain detail of vital events for the entire life course.

This seminar discusses the development of the Navrongo Historical Demographic Database. It describes where it’s come from and the doors it can open for future research. I reflect upon the fieldwork process and unique challenges of collecting and organising a vast archive of unordered information and the important work undertaken to make sense of the parish records. I also present the findings of the first set of digitised parish cards, describe the initial results and reflect on their strengths and weakness as a source of information to describe the historical demography of Navrongo, from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

Presented in Session 112: Filling Knowledge Gaps Using New Data