Camilla von Massenbach steps down as Free UK Genealogy trustee

We are sad to share the news that Camilla Gemmingen von Massenbach has stepped down from her role as trustee of Free UK Genealogy.

Together with Ben Laurie and Graham Hart, Camilla conceived and founded FreeBMD in 1998. Over the last 25 years, it has expanded to cover over 415 million records across a family of three sites. 

She was instrumental in setting up FreeBMD as a charity, and served as a trustee of FreeBMD from the beginning and then, once the organisation expanded to include FreeREG and FreeCEN, of Free UK Genealogy. Although she stepped down as chair in 2017, she continued as trustee offering much needed help and guidance as the organisation developed. Pat Reynolds, who joined as Chief Executive Officer in 2016 remembers Camilla for her huge and continuing work for the charity, in areas from governance to running payroll, and for the personal support she received from Camilla over the years. Richard Light, outgoing Chair of Trustees, was first encouraged to get involved with Free UK Genealogy through the enthusiasm of Camilla (and husband Ben) for Open Data.

We would like to note our deep appreciation for everything Camilla has done over all this time. Put simply, if it wasn’t for Camilla we wouldn’t have FreeBMD, or Free UK Genealogy today.

She shared the following message which we would like to share with all the volunteers:

I remember when we started FreeBMD. It seems like yesterday but was actually twenty three or twenty four years ago now.

We had visions of a free access database with the BMD GRO indexes freely searchable. I think there were thought to be about 100 million entries at the time.  It seemed like an impossible target to aim for - to transcribe all those entries. There are somewhere approaching three times as many as the original target online now.

We had visions of people collaborating and offering transcribing, other expertise and lots of time to achieve this, and even hoped we might be able to claim 100 million records in our lifetimes. We were not quite sure how to fund the resources we needed and funding continues to take up a lot of brainpower. But, we have managed to not charge for the transcribed data. It is still free access and always will be.  (If you wish to donate, we always welcome the support.)

The task isn't complete but the achievement is real. The scope has widened. Our own umbrella Free UK Genealogy now also covers FreeREG and FreeCEN, sister databases with huge ambitions producing hugely significant primary source transcriptions for free access. Out there, the idea of Crowd Sourcing is well known and used successfully for all sorts of things. Those of you who were with us early on can legitimately say we must have been the first Internet Crowd Sourced project.  We set a pattern and have had a wide influence.

My role was never a technical one, but for a long time, I ran the finances and acted as guinea pig tester and anything else that was wanted. There is rather a lot more to do these days and we have an Executive Director extraordinaire and a handful of wonderful staff as well as a dedicated board of trustees and an advisory board. The lines of communication have improved and the technical underpinning and systems which worked and worked for many years are all being modernised and made fit for the future. Of course the most important people are all the volunteers new and old who contribute time, expertise, enthusiasm at all levels of the organisations. The community has created a very useful thing!

I am reviewing all this now, because I have enjoyed being part of this whole thing which has also been so important in my life for so long. However, recently, I have really only had time to provide a sort of continuity for the more recently enlisted trustees and am aware they are doing just fine. I also have rather a lot on, so fear I am not terribly reliable either. So it is time for me to step down as a formal Trustee.

I wish Free UK Genealogy success!