• Trust : Enrichment : Openness

    Archives Unlocked, the vision for Archives in England 

    Archives Unlocked was launched by the National Archives yesterday, 29th March. This is a compact, but important document: “IN SHORT: ARCHIVES MATTER. Our collections need to be used to be useful.”  This is not a new philosophy, but it has new implications, driven by three changes in the context of archives which have become more apparent over the last decade or so, and the last months. The technological and social context is characterised by the concern for digital and accessibility in the UK Digital Strategy section on heritage. This is joined by a concern for confidence in information in an era of false news, and the removal of old obfuscations and lies through examination of archival material.

    “TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE Digital technology has fundamentally changed what it means to be an archive. Archivists can help the IT and knowledge management communities by bringing professional archival practice to this digital world”,

    “USER EXPECTATIONS Society is changing, opening up new uses for data and records, and posing new questions about what is collected now and in the future, in both paper-based documents and digital formats”. 

    The third change is “CONFIDENCE IN DATA AND INFORMATION People need to have confidence in the integrity of institutions. Organisations need to be open and transparent, and high profile enquiries into the history and culture of public, corporate and charitable bodies have highlighted the evedential value of records.” 

    The Vision document changed significantly in response to the changes we experienced particularly through the second half of 2016: the importance of access, particularly digital access and access to born-digital information highlighted when the importance of this data for confidence in institutions became clearer: it is not enough for the data to be preserved, or for it to be reliably transmitted, but also for it to be open and transparent.

    This context leads to three high-level visions, for Trust, Enrichment and Openness, with case studies and think pieces for those who would like to delve further, and action plans for those who are involved with delivering the vision, in whatever capacity.

    How Free UK Genealogy helps to achieve that vision (using the language of Archives Unlocked).


    People and institutions trust in the quality of our type-what-you-see transcriptions as an authentic representation of archived records, supported by our openness about the limitations of a transcription, and the need for researchers to verify information. 

    • Democracy and society are strengthened by enabling free, comprehensive, remote scrutiny of the archival record, holding institutions and individuals to account.
    • Users have confidence in the integrity and authenticity of our transcriptions, and in the charity and its volunteers who support their research.
    • We embrace the opportunities of technological change, ensuring confidence in both born-digital and transcribed records.


    Our work enhances and enriches our society intellectually, economically and culturally.

    • Our culture of knowledge and learning and our commitment to open data expands through new ways to discover and use archive material.
    • Open data means value in businesses(1) can grow through the use of archive material to support change, innovation and efficiency.
    • People’s lives are enhanced through their engagement with archive collections.


    Free UK Genealogy cultivate an open approach to knowledge, makes archive records accessible to all.

    • We aim to deliver an excellent user experience, enabling people to find, access and interpret archive records
    • The rich diversity of society is increasingly reflected in our archives’ collections, users and workers (including volunteers).
    • We are networked globally to maintain excellent practice and open new possibilities for institutions and users.

    In some of these areas, we have almost 20 years’ experience as an institution, and huge experience as individuals.  In others, we have just started on our paths towards truth, enrichment and openness. The work plan will help us in that, and we in turn can help others in the wider archive world.

    The plan focuses on three themes:

    DIGITAL CAPACITY. Develop the digital capacity of the archives sector, to preserve digital records, and increase discoverability of the paper and digital archive. 

    RESILIENCE. Build the sectors resilience to ensure more archives can meet and sustain the Archive Service Accreditation standard, open the sector to new skills and a more diverse workforce, increase income generation capacities, and support innovative service models. 

    IMPACT. Demonstrate the impact of archives by developing and expanding audiences, piloting approaches to using data and evidence, and influencing thinking in the IT, commercial and knowledge sectors.


    The plan will be delivered over the next three years, each a separate phase:

    PHASE 1 - BUILDING THE PLATFORM. Scope and design the infrastructure that will give archives the capacity, knowledge and development tools for delivering the three themes of the action plan. 

    PHASE 2 - DEVELOPING CAPACITY. Design and test new models of delivering world-class archive services, working with partners on research and guidance in order to enable the development of new archive practice. 

    PHASE 3 - SHAPING THE FUTURE. Enable services to influence new delivery streams in emerging technologies, policies and strategies, within and beyond the archives sector.

    (1) One change between the consultation version of Archives Unlocked and the published version which we argued for was a fundamental shift from seeing ‘commercial’ relationships in terms of behind-paywall datasets: a wider vision of the contribution of archives to economic sustainability (as opposed to the contribution of business to the budgets of archives) is both more representative of the wider archive community, and fit much better with a vision for archives that has truth, enrichment and openness as its aims.  This is not to say that there is no role in this world for commercial partners who limit access: if they are providing enrichment that cannot be made by the archive or not-for-profit partners, they still have an important role, and will still be contributing to economic sustainability.

    Quotations and adaptations from Archives Unlocked are © Crown copyright 2017.

    This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government

  • Change of Leadership at Free UK Genealogy

    Camilla von Massenbach, founder trustee of FreeBMD (the predecessor charity of Free UK Genealogy and Free UK Genealogy CIO), and chair since its beginning in 2002 has announced her resignation as chair.  

    Camilla together with Graham Hart, Ben Laurie and David Mayall - all still trustees - created the FreeBMD project in 1998. This was one of the first crowdsourced projects (the word 'crowdsource' didn't get invented for another 8 years - link is to the first use recorded by the OED). Rootsweb noted at the time "The FreeBMD project is expected to take forever probably, and the next 15 years certainly". Camilla was part of the management team, and acted as Scan Coordinator. 

    By 2013 - the most optimistic estimate for completion -  the project had reached the 1960s for births and marriages, and the early 1970s for deaths. Today, we are rapidly approaching the completion of the initial target of all registrations to 1983. FreeBMD has demonstrated beyond a doubt the need for free access to genealogical data, and the ability of a volunteer organisation to achieve this.  

    Two other projects which were started very shortly after FreeBMD, FreeCEN (which presents Census data) and FreeREG (which presents data from Church of England registers of baptism, marriage and burial, and similar sources) became part of the family, and the charity changed its name from FreeBMD to Free UK Genealogy to reflect its curation of all three projects, and its wider aims to advocate free access to historic documents.  

    Most recently, on 1st January 2017, the unincorporated charity incorporated as Free UK Genealogy CIO, and Camilla will continue to serve as a Trustee.

    For almost 20 years Camilla has been a thoughtful and supportive founder and leader of a visionary organisation achieving truly remarkable results. I am pleased to say that Richard Light has agreed to be our next Chair. Richard has been chairing the Policy Group within the charity for over a year, and has a particular interest in linked data. I look forwards to working with Richard in his new role, and continuing to work with Camilla.

    Pat Reynolds

    Executive Director, Free UK Genealogy CIO

  • Ruby Developer

    We are looking for a Ruby on Rails developer who is looking to grow their skills as part of an established, friendly and supportive team. This is a newly created role, bringing extra capacity to Free UK Genealogy at a time of change. There will be opportunity to train and support new volunteers. We are looking for someone who is willing - excited even - to work in an environment where observing, thinking, and contributing to the wider picture are part of the role as we build the next versions of our services.

    Free UK Genealogy is a virtual organisation, it currently has no premises, therefore the work will be done from home.  We are offering this as a full time (36  hours per week) role, initially for 18 months but with the possibility of extension. Salary: up to £28,000 p/a.
    Please download further information
    Apply to pat.reynolds@freeukgenealogy.org.uk with a CV, supporting statement of up to 1000 words, and examples of your work that you think are relevant (e.g. on GitHub) by noon on Tuesday 7th February. Initial interviews will be held via Google hangout, probably w/c Monday 13th February 2017.