• 2022 Annual Return: Much progress made, but more to do!

    We have recently completed and filed our annual accounts (link) for Free UK Genealogy CIO, the charity that operates FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG projects. Last November, we shared the news that we had turned around our financial position after a few years of challenges. These accounts confirm the journey that we have been on, turning around a £30,000 deficit into a £43,000 surplus, and delivering the much strengthened financial position we now have:

    Many people have contributed to this turnaround and we would particularly like to thank:

    • Kate Streatfield, Nick Riches and William Speight, whose efforts on the Fundraising Steering Group bore fruit with the BigGive campaign last Christmas and increased donations
    • Our partners at MyHeritage and Publift who have worked with us to improve the effectiveness of our advertising without degrading the user experience
    • All our staff and volunteers whose ongoing efforts have helped keep costs under control.

    But as we said last year, financial stability is not an end in itself: it means we can focus on supporting our websites and our volunteers and delivering our objectives – making genealogy records available –  in the best way possible. Our report also illustrates the urgency of this focus:

    The continued reduction in volunteers highlights the importance of improving our transcription systems and the volunteer experience. Whilst 15 million new records is very impressive, this has continued to fall. Now that our financial position has been turned around, we also need to turnaround the decline in our volunteers and transcription rates - two key measures of how we deliver our objectives.

    This was why we organised our Strategy Weekend in June, which brought together staff, volunteers and trustees to discuss our priorities. We have adopted “Quality, Value, Growth" as our focus as we look to strengthen our projects in the years to come.

    We have started to appoint the additional committees we agreed at the strategy weekend, to focus on the key priorities and challenges that we are facing.

    This will take time to bear fruit; however, just as we have been successful in turning around our financial position, we are confident that we can also turn around our slowing progress with our projects.

  • FreeCEN: Taking Another Stride Forward

    FreeCEN is undertaking a major project to improve data accuracy and consequently further improve the quality of its search results.

    FreeCEN, along with other FreeUKGenealogy projects, has long been regarded by many as providing better quality transcriptions than those from commercial companies. We have a reputation for achieving a very accurate transcription of the censuses.

    The new "FreeCEN2" website was launched in 2017 as an enhanced programme to replace "FreeCEN1". It records more detail from the censuses and allows transcribers to work on the 20th century censuses as well as on the 19th century returns.

    We're now undertaking a major project to improve searching. This project will have several steps (some recently achieved)

    • The civil parishes as recorded in FreeCEN1 and migrated into FreeCEN2 have been reconciled with the National Archive index. This has removed anomalies and mis-typed entries from our data and therefore markedly improved the results from our current FreeCEN2 searches.
    • FreeCEN2 now matches Place of Birth entries with a Gazetteer that records place names along with their nineteenth century counties, their latitude and longitude, and a link to a source that supports that the place exists or existed. This Gazetteer contains England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland places together with overseas places that have been geolocated by volunteers. This Gazetteer now has over 60,000 worldwide records. Volunteers match places of birth as recorded with the place in the Gazetteer (adding new ones when necessary) and where needed record an alternative correction. Both place names are displayed in the search results.
    • Our next step will be to review over 40 million records imported to FreeCEN2 from FreeCEN1. An automated system will highlight those records that need to be reviewed. Once an alternative place name has been identified it will be propagated to all similar records in the database. All places of birth that can be identified will then have been linked to the Gazetteer. This process will start in the near future.
    • The geolocation of over 60,000 place names in the Gazetteer, linked to each place of birth, will allow FreeCEN to develop new searching capabilities based on latitude and longitude. That means that we will also be able to search around a particular point. It also means that we will be freed from the limitations of text searching for places of birth. A new and improved place of birth search will subsequently be able to be implemented to replace the obsolete search in FreeCEN1.

    We'll then look to develop specific search capabilities - such as searching for a person among shipping returns or searching for a person by their occupation.

    All of these enhancements will keep Free UK Genealogy, and FreeCEN in particular, as a sought-after alternative to commercial genealogical companies by people researching their family trees. The work by FreeCEN is mainly done by volunteers with transcribing, proofreading, coordinating, data management and system development among their roles. It is only through their support and hard work that FreeCEN has become the high-quality genealogical research tool that it is today. The improvements outlined above will serve to maintain and improve FreeCEN’s well regarded reputation.