• How to Get Involved with Open Source

    Free UK Genealogy software is Open Source.  If you want to participate in a Summer of Code programme, add some volunteering to your CV, pick up as a volunteer the bits of work you enjoyed before you retired, or just wonder if Open Source is for you ... there are loads of opportunities (and not just with us!).

    Don't stop reading if you can't code in the languages we use ... or any language ... you still have skills we need!

    To find a good opportunity for you, you may find it helpful to ask yourself some questions:

    • are you looking to use existing skills / develop them, or are you looking to start with a new language or a different part of the many processes which lie between 'wouldn't it be great if ...' and 'the end'.
    • what is out there that you enjoy using?  We hope you answer includes our projects, but we expect you will have several favourites.
    • how much time can you commit?  An hour a week for the next 10 years?  The next 10 weeks, 35 hours a week?  
    • what are you passionate about?  wildlife? F1? music? knitting? robotics? family history? There are open source projects where you can combine work on software that supports your interests.

    With some self-understanding of what you might want to get out of volunteering on an Open Source project, you will be in a good place to find the right project for you. The Open Source how-to-contribute guide is an excellent place to get started. It will help you to understand the jargon, and to identify a number of projects that could fit your needs. 

    We have several projects on github, managed via waffleboard (a kanban-style interface - think of them as digital walls with a lot of sticky notes on them, each note being a single task or issue).  Currently the most active (and where you will find 'Good First Issue' tasks to get you into the swing of things) are: 

    https://waffle.io/freeukgen/myopicvicar - where we manage the development of www.freereg.org.uk including the transcription and quality control tools, database and search technology (our languages are csv, mongodb, ruby on rails and refinery) and

    https://waffle.io/freeukgen/freecenmigration - where we manage the development of www.freecen.org.uk and the underlying transcription and quality control tools and database and search technology (our languages are csv, mongodb, ruby on rails and refinery).  

    We've brought together some of the developments that we think might particularly interest you and put theideas here.

    You might also like to look at https://waffle.io/FreeUKGen/New-Projects which is where we work on future projects.  This includes discussion of what a project might achieve, the technological approach(es) we we could take, the resources needed to undertake the project, and applying for funding (if that's needed).  

    We are currently writing the Project Initiation Document for the new interface for www.freebmd.org.uk - we will be using https://waffle.io/FreeUKGen/FreeBMD2 to manage the project, but there isn't much there yet. The database will continue to be PHP, but we are discussing the CMS to use with the new interface over on freeukgenealogy.slack.com right now.

    Next steps 

    Plunge right in and help with a 'Good First Issue' - often this means seeing if you can replicate a problem that one of our users has experienced.  Or checking that something is working properly now we've put a fix or new feature in place. Or contact us - ask if there is anything you could help with, a particular skill you'ld like to build, or if a particular new project on the New Projects catches your eye. If you are intersted in participating in a particular Summer of Code, please let us know, and we'll see what we can do.

  • Guest post: Neish - A One Name Study

    A one name study looks at the origins of a surname rather than a
    person or a family. Here, Alisdair Neish explains how getting
    involved with the study led to him discovering people from all over
    the world with the same surname.

    Alisdair welcomes information on any Neish-related names to add to the database, and is especially seeking help with Northern Irish branches: McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece.


    I learned early that it is not uncommon to grow up not knowing anyone else who shares your surname. My only Uncle and my Dad's last remaining Uncle died when I was around 12. It was 10 years later, the year my Dad died, before I met another Neish. My early research uncovered almost nothing other than the McNab Folklore. [1]

    I realised we were out there as the Neish / McNeish name had a habit of popping up in news items or documentaries, especially after the birth of the internet. I soon contacted lots of individuals who, like me, did not know much beyond their immediate family.

    Then I was emailed by John Sudell Neish who is creating a One Name database of every Neish who ever lived. I was able to tell John enough to link into his data and John was able to tell me that we were 6th cousins and was kind enough to provide me with details of my entire family group since our common ancestor  of 1715. My research continued though.

    Image: Loch Earn, home of the Neish clan (©  Patrick MacRitchie)

    Even with a rare name you have to be careful with research. I have seen family trees online where a man is recorded as marrying his mother and a “super” Neish fathering a child when in his nineties. Of course both were wrong. I have proven four “Alexander Neish” babies all born in one tiny farm village in the same year. Care is always needed. So many people became upset at John when he pointed out the sometimes glaring errors in their own research that he has stopped all direct online interaction to concentrate on the Neish list.

    I and a few others now do our best, using his data and practice, to fill that online gap. We also collate whatever new information we can learn and pass that back to John for corroboration and inclusion in the master database.

    I am happy to help anyone who is looking for Neish information if I can. Of course we are always happy to receive new information too, to add to the list which now stands at 25,000 individuals from all around the world. From farm hands to astronauts!

    By the beginning of Scottish parish records there were already five distinct family groups in Scotland. This suggested there was more history to uncover from before the days of parish records.

    The name (and its 40+ spellings) is rare enough that no-one had really worked on it since the 19th century. My own research is mainly into the many hundreds of randomly recorded individuals going back to 1200 AD (possibly even older but no firm proof as yet) which suggested a single source and most of my current work lies in trying to prove / disprove our early history. Nothing fitted the highland Clan system. That's a story for another day.

    Most Scots clan names refer to an allegiance to a particular group or a strong leader who protected the local population in times of trouble. For example Son of Gregor has given us McGregor. Today many groups claim to be part of Large clans and are considered to be septs of the clan. Some Neish joined up with the McGregors and are accepted by clan societies today as a sept. This does not tell us where they came from. Were the Neish the sons of one man or a group of folks living under the protectorate of that leader?

    Recently, following a request, I looked into the Northern Ireland family where the spelling generally altered to McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece. Unfortunately, due to the combination of changing government and a fire in the records office we have big gaps in the history of the family before the 1920’s. Establishing who belongs to which family on a countrywide scale is proving difficult and we would love to hear from anyone who has already looked at, or is currently looking into the Irish family to see if we can help each other.

    If you would like to get in touch with Alisdair, you can email him at alisdairneish@gmail.com, and/or join the Neish Facebook group.


    [1] A McNab chief headed "the violent feud with the Clan Neish, or MacNeish, who held the lands in the upper part of Strathearn and lived on the lower part of Loch Earn, which they called Neish Island." From http://clan-macnab.com/macnab-history

    As Alisdair noted above (and anyone researching Irish ancestry) can attest, Irish genealogy has it's own particular set of challenges for the researcher. In a few weeks, Pat Reynolds (FreeUKGEN's executive director) will be writing about records pertaining to Northern Ireland on our websites, and in the new year we will present a series of guest posts from a specialist in the field of Irish genealogy, to help you overcome those barriers.

  • Transcribing difficult registers - Cathy Jury

    Last month, Frank Rogers described some of the work he does as a transcriber for FreeREG. Here, FreeREG transcriber Cathy Jury exemplifies the need for patience and tenacity when working on some of the more difficult parish registers...


    Years of transcribing tricky Cornish place names and surnames and a knowledge of Latin (plus digital enhancement and lots of patience) are helping me to extract many details from St Kew’s register, which was repaired and rebound in 1868 following severe fire damage.

    The 16th / 17th century handwriting in Latin is difficult to read, forenames are Latinised and surnames and place names have varied and archaic spellings. 

    An example of the fire damaged register of St. Kew:

    Image: Cornwall Record Office P100/1/1 

    I’ve been transcribing for about 6 years now and am concentrating on the older 16th-18th century registers. I think it is in this area that FreeREG offers a real help to its users, because these pages can look like an unintelligible mess to the inexperienced.

    These St. Kew records are now finished and all searchable using the FreeREG search tools. Researchers can use them to locate a possible family member in this seemingly illegible register and even discover which Cornish village or farm they lived in.

    My volunteering has been rewarding in a number of ways. I enjoy the challenge of the more difficult registers. It’s very satisfying to go back to that entry that has defeated you initially, but becomes clear as you progress through the register. We transcribers also have a very supportive mail group of over 440 other transcribers, who can usually help to solve the most difficult or unusual entries. 

    Finally of course, we are contributing to an amazing voluntary effort to provide searchable parish records for free and for all.

    by Cathy Jury, FreeREG transcriber


    Do you have some local knowledge and/or Latin (even a rusty O Level!)?

    FreeREG has images of various difficulty levels, so if you'd like to transcribe but don't feel up to this type of register, still get in touch; we can start you on something you feel comfortable with.