• Help keep access to family history free with the Big Give Christmas Challenge!

    This year, Free UK Genealogy is looking to raise £20,000 through the Big Give Christmas Challenge. We aim to spend this on modernising and improving our services across all our websites. 

    Our Free websites (FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG) are all looking at improvements which will help to improve user and transcriber experiences. 
    FreeBMD must be updated and refreshed to provide better user search facilities and transcriber tools. We want to enhance the FreeCEN interface for users on phones and tablets and increase transcriber flexibility in data fields. In addition, FreeREG hopes to improve transcription tools online and offline and improve search engine features, such as wildcard options.
    Unfortunately, without extra funding, it will be some time before we will be able to implement any changes to the website.

    As this is our first Christmas Challenge, we’re keen to be realistic and successful! So we are asking for your help with the first phase, which is to gain enough pledges to reach our £5,000 target. We need supporters willing to pledge at least £100. A pledge is a promise to match donations made during the Christmas Challenge.

    Once pledges are in, the second phase begins. Individual Big Give Champions will select to double a charity's fundraising. For example, if a Champion picks Free UK Genealogy, this will be a fantastic opportunity to raise funds and help improve FreeBMD/CEN/REG. 

    You won’t need to pay anything until after the campaign ends in early December. If you want to help, please act now, as the deadline for pledges is the 2nd of September 2022

    You can make your pledge here: https://www.thebiggive.org.uk/s/pledge?campaignId=a056900002NEB61AAH

    All donations made during the Christmas Challenge will be matched with the pledges previously raised. This means that every £1 you pledge can become £2, and if a Big Give Champion selects us, every £1 you pledge can become £4.

    This video helps explain the process:

    If you're not in a position to offer a pledge, please consider donating any amount you wish instead when the campaign goes live on 29th of November. 

    We're very excited to be part of the Big Give Christmas Challenge, and we hope you will be too.

  • Announcement from the Trustees

    The Trustees of Free UK Genealogy are delighted to announce that Denise Colbert, currently Engagement and Volunteering Coordinator, has been appointed to the new, full-time position of Chief Operating Officer of Free UK Genealogy. Denise will be starting this work in August, allowing for a handover with the outgoing Executive Director, Pat Reynolds, at the end of September.  

    In addition, Rich Pomfret, Senior Technical Project Manager, will be leaving at the end of August.

    Neither the Executive Director nor Senior Technical Project Manager roles will be replaced with direct counterparts. The strategic parts of Pat’s and Rich’s work will be taken on by the Trustees and other volunteers, whilst Denise will pick up the operational aspects, including as line manager for the other staff.

    Commenting on the changes, Richard Light, chair of Trustees, said:

    “Pat has made an enormous contribution to Free UK Genealogy since joining us as our Executive Director seven years ago. We are very grateful for her hard work over this time and wish her a very happy retirement.

    Denise has made a real impact as Engagement Coordinator since joining us in 2016. The board are confident that we have the right person to take us forward at this exciting time for Free UK Genealogy.”

  • Dating photographs from fashion in the 1950s

    The decade included a coronation, an economic boom and the arrival of the teenager

    We have reached the 1950s in our series on dating photographs from fashion. This decade saw the coronation of our own Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 - the 70th anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. Therefore, it seems fitting to start with a photograph of one of the many street parties held to mark the occasion (this one was in Lockleaze, Bristol), which gives us a fascinating glimpse into the fashions of the day. 

    We see the men are mostly sporting jackets and ties, with short hair cuts, while the women are in dresses or smart coats with curled or waved hair. The girls are wearing their party dresses with a cardigan or coat, while the boys mimic the men with their blazers and ties. It looks as though they were having fun!

    Street Party Coronation 1953

    Coronation 1953, street party

    Golden Age of Capitalism - and the teenager!

    The coronation aside, overall, the 1950s was a decade dominated by the post-World War 2 boom and dubbed the ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’. It is also remembered, though, for the emergence of ‘the teenager’.

    In terms of photography, camera technology was continuing to advance with the introduction of the Pentax and Nikon F cameras; but photographs were still printed mainly in black and white. The use of cine film was increasing, too, capturing moving images of family events such as weddings and holidays.

    But whether you have photographs, cine film or both in your collection, dating them can create a challenge. So, let’s dive deeper into ‘50s fashion. With clothes rationing coming to an end in 1949, and the improving economic situation, the conditions were ripe for fashion to flourish.

    Women enjoyed the increased choice and made a special effort to dress appropriately for every occasion. The styles were based on elegance, formality and matching accessories. For men, when not dressing for formal occasions, the momentum continued towards a more casual day-to-day style.

    But, many fashions of the 1950s were heavily influenced by something new: the rise of the teenager. Until now, when young men transitioned from short to long trousers, for example, they would simply dress as younger versions of their fathers. Now, with higher wages and outside influences, young people wanted something new. They watched television, read magazines, bought records and danced to rock music. All of this influenced the clothes they wanted to wear. 

    James Dean Elvis Presley Marlon Brando

    James Dean; Marlon Brando; Elvis Presley (Wikipedia)

    Men: rebels and casuals

    So, let’s focus first on what men wore.

    From early in the 1950s, many young men opted to rebel against tradition by styling themselves on the icons of the time. Think Marlon Brando (‘A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951), James Dean (‘Rebel Without a Cause, 1955), or Elvis Presley (‘Jailhouse Rock’, 1957) – all of whom popularised the white t-shirt, jeans, and greased-back hair look.

    In Britain, many younger working-class men also created their own look with an adaptation of the ‘New Edwardian’ suit. This was a slim-cut suit with narrow trousers and a velvet collar, originally designed by Savile Row tailors for young men of the upper classes. Teenagers teamed the suit with crepe-soled shoes and ‘quiffed’ hair, and the ‘Teddy Boys’ were born.

    Otherwise, formal daywear and eveningwear for men continued along the same lines as the previous decade, with suits maintaining the baggy shape that had started in the 1940s. Small changes crept in, such as the ‘skinny’ tie and an increasing presence of colour in shirts and jumpers.

    For casual wear, men often wore a lightweight sports jacket, a coloured shirt, and a pair of slacks.

    1950s home photos

    Women: from full skirts to pencil skirts

    For the most part, teenage girls were less radical than their male counterparts. There was such a wide choice of stunning fashions that most simply tended to opt for more youthful interpretations of their mothers’ styles.

    Christian Dior's 'new look' (introduced in 1947) of the nipped-in waist and full-skirted silhouette remained the leading style in the first half of the 1950s. This core style was seen in evening gowns, day dresses, and separates. Materials used for day dresses tended to be patterned, while those for separates and evening gowns were plain.

    In the latter part of the decade, the fashions became straighter and slimmer, as ‘pencil’ dresses and skirts became popular, along with straight-cut suits. It also became increasingly acceptable for women to wear slacks for some occasions.

    Overall, the fashions leaned towards femininity and formality. Indeed, this was the decade when the ‘cocktail dress’ became popular. These dresses were the length of a day dress but embellished like eveningwear. 

    The full-skirted dress remained the mode for evening wear throughout the decade, and a new strapless bodice was especially popular, as the pared-down bodice balanced out the wide skirts.

    Women had different shoes for different occasions, ranging from closed-toed pumps to stiletto heels, and from wedges to sandals. While hats continued to be fashionable (such as the iconic pillbox, the veiled fascinator, or a large-brimmed straw hat for summer), women also tied colourful scarves over their hair instead. Their outfits were usually accessorized with a pair of gloves, a handbag or clutch purse, and jewellery (whether costume or real).

    Coats were usually either very fitted, semi-fitted, or full and swingy. Full coats had wide sleeves, a triangular shape, large cuffs, collars, and usually large buttons as well. They came in long (to mid-shin) or short (to the hip) lengths.


    Children’s wear

    Children’s fashion in the 1950s mirrored the adults’ trends. Young girls wore dresses with full skirts, and young boys’ clothes became more casual.

    In previous decades, young boys had typically worn collared shirts, ties, and blazers with a pair of shorts, until they were ‘old enough for long trousers. However, in the 1950s, as for teenagers and young men, it became increasingly acceptable for boys to wear jeans for most occasions. It became rare throughout the decade for young boys to wear ties and collared shirts were abandoned in the most casual settings. Colourful and patterned short-sleeved, collared shirts were popular options for everyday wear. Knitted jumpers and cardigans continued their popularity.

    In contrast, young girls’ wardrobes consisted mainly of formal dresses with natural waists, full skirts, and puffed sleeves. Styles became more varied as the decade progressed, and included dropped waists, smock dresses, and pinafores in bold colours and patterns. White ankle socks and shiny black patent leather shoes completed the look. Girls also wore blouses and skirts, with a matching jacket or cardigan, with slacks becoming popular later in the decade. Hair was adorned with ribbons and bows.

    Looking ahead

    Next time, we’ll take a look at photography and the fashions of the Swinging Sixties: a decade where anything could happen and probably did – though we’re reliably told that if you could remember it, you weren’t properly partaking!  The way people dressed was an obvious sign of shifting attitudes. In the 1960s, many chose, very publicly, to start looking different from the norm. We’re looking forward to exploring this one!

  • Are you a FreeUKGEN Volunteer?

    We want to know more about you, our volunteers, and how the COVID pandemic may have affected your volunteering.

    We believe that the survey below will help us to better understand our volunteers so we can support you better and remove potential barriers to volunteering with us. We also believe that understanding the impact of the pandemic on our volunteers will be useful to support current and future volunteers.

    You can access the survey using this link: https://forms.gle/BeztnHMBxqTBcaZg9 or complete it below.

    All answers are anonymous: we are not collecting any identifying data.