• Censuring Censuses!

    If you're a part of any family history forum or group, it's not unusual to find a genealogist bemoaning the spelling and handwriting, or casting aspersions on the intentions of a particular Census Enumerator. We recently shared this image on our Facebook page and our followers certainly appeared to see the veracity behind the humour:

    However, we then came across this poem which seems to lay at least some of the blame at the feet of our ancestors! 
    (Please note that this was published in 1881, and we haven't been able to see the original)

    The Enumerators Complaint

    The census may be good and right and useful to the human natur'
    But I can swear there's no delight
    In being an enumerator;
    For up and down six blessed streets,
    I've tramped it morning after morning,
    And the reception that one meets
    Should I serve as a most wholesome morning.

    This house, their writing isn't plain;
    That house, their language is exotic;
    And some describe themselves as sane,
    Who seem to me quite idiotic.
    Towns such as countess never knew
    Are given as the natal places;
    While you're supposed to find what's true,
    And to correct in faulty cases.

    Then ladies of a certain age
    Decline to make it clear by telling;
    And others fly into a rage,
    And oh, such awful slips and spelling!
    And some deduce - in humour bold -Their line from non-existent nations,
    And state they've grown uncommon old
    In most unheard of occupations.

    Here, you perceive that you intrude;
    And here, the party's an objector;
    And here, they are positively rude -They fancy you're the tax collector.
    So what with humbug and rebuff,
    And cutting many fruitless capers,
    I have already had enough,
    And cry - Confound these census papers!

    We complain about the enumerators; they pass the buck on to the public. It seems that in the taking of the census, the old adage needs updating:

    There can be three sides to a story!

  • Opening Death Data for Genealogists and Other Historians

    Open Data image with logos

    Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data all over the world. On Saturday 3rd March groups from around the world will create local events on the day where they will use open data in their communities. It is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society.

    All outputs are open for everyone to use and re-use.  Research Data is one of four themes for this year's Open Data Day.

    All three of our current projects contain information which is invaluable to family historians and other researchers. The indices to the registrations of death in England and Wales are, of course, freely available on www.freebmd.org.uk. Civil registration only started in 1837, so to find deaths which occurred earlier, you can look on www.freereg.org.uk, to see Church of England and other burials.  Later burials are there too, from the Church of England Registers and a growing range of religious organisations and secular bodies.  Most recently, we have received images of burial registers from Lancashire that are awaiting transcription - sign up here to help get them on line sooner!

    Image of a desk with genealogy paraphernalia


    Surprisingly, perhaps, the census records we transcribe and share on www.freecen.org.uk and its new-look freecen2.freecen.org.uk also have information about death.  On www.freecen.org.uk you can search by occupation, and this includes those who worked in various aspects of the businesses surrounding death.  Restricting the search to Cornwall, in 1841 there was just one (funeral) "undertaker" recorded (in St Austell) In 1851, four undertakers are recorded:

    Image showing details of four undertakers


    In 1861, just one again is recorded, and in 1871 five including Jabez Parkyn.  A decade later, the Parkyn name becomes even more visible, as the children of the family (shown below in the 1871 census) continued the family trade, all three describing themselves as "Builder & Undertaker":

    1871 Census, Parkyn Family


    But in 1891, although the number had grown to 11, none of them was a Parkyn.  Jabez senior and Jabez junior (now spelled Parkin) are recorded purely as Builders, Jabez William A had become a painter.

    Parkin 1881 census


    This brief look raises many questions - many undertakers had more than one occupation (carpenter or mason being common).  Were others who were recorded only as masons or carpenters also arranging funerals? We have not yet enabled a search-by-occupation feature on FreeCEN2 - we'd love to know if you would use this feature, and how you would like the search of occupations to work there.

    I restricted the data to Cornwall, as we now have permission to share this dataset as Open Data - please contact us to request access to this dataset. Sharing this data as Open means that the history of undertaking in Victorian Cornwall can be undertaken (excuse the pun!) much more easily than for other counties.

    Please join us in exploring our records on 3rd March, commenting here or on our Facebook event.  We'd love to know anything you are doing with the data of death - for example if you are researching the Undertaking Parkyns of Cornwall, exploring longevity, or if you would like us to transcribe the records of your church or share the transcriptions from a graveyard survey.

  • Nothing from Northern Ireland?

    Some reseachers have - rightly - questioned why Free UK Genealogy has 'UK' in its name as we have, until recently, not transcribed records created in Northern Ireland.

    The UK in our name reflects ambition rather than the actuality of the three projects which are currently providing data (FreeBMD - England and Wales, FreeCEN - England and Wales, Scotland and Crown Dependencies, and FreeREG - England and Wales, Scotland, and Crown Dependencies). 
    This is not to say that we do not have data relating to Northern Ireland.  It is most easily accessible on the original FreeCEN website, where you can search by place of birth.   For example, Harriett Smith, a widow born in Argmagh, was working as a servant in Nottingham in 1891:

    Screenshot of transcription of a household from FreeCEN website
    Household in Nottingham, including Hariett Smith, born Armagh
    Grand brick-built Victorian villa
    Cliff House, Hermitage Walk, Nottingham (c) Savilles (1)

    You can currently search on freecen2.freecen.org.uk by Northern Irish county, and Eire counties will be added shortly. You cannot, currently, search by place of birth within any county - we would love to hear from you about how we can best help you to search for Irish ancestors, so please fill in the survey there. Sadly, the early censuses of Ireland have rarely survived. We would like to work with the National Archives of Ireland, who hold those fragments which remain, to enable the early censuses to be transcribed, and their data for the 1901 and 1911 to be shared on FreeCEN. 

    On FreeREG, we have recently been given transcriptions of registers in Co. Fermanagh, and these are the start of our coverage for Northern Ireland.  Country Coordinator Sandra Adams-West is contacting record-holders and recruiting new transcribers (head over to https://www.freereg.org.uk/cms/opportunities-to-volunteer-with-freereg if you would like to help out).

    Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths started in Ireland in 1864.  Records are searchable at https://geni.nidirect.gov.uk/, but in a very limited form.  We would like to work with the government of Northern Ireland, to enable searching across the UK (in FreeBMD), which would make their data more discoverable while enabling them to retain their income from pay-per-view to the certificates.  We are hoping to transcribe registration of Birth, Marriage and Death from military contexts and these include instances of events in Ireland.  For example one folio of the Registry of Marriages, Births and Baptisms, C Brigade Royal Horse Artillery. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C11665645 begins with a marriage at Charlemont, Armagh, in 1889, and ends with the birth of their daughter in Aldershot the following year.  This is a good example of a record which is currently inaccessible, as it has not been digitised

    So while we do not yet have much from Northern Ireland we have a little, and plans to do a great deal more. we would be delighted to hear from any organisation with such records that they would like us to transcribe.

    (1) This image shows the house where Harriett was a General Servant in a household with 10 young children  The house was offered for sale a few years ago, and the details are still available at http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-22783515.html

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    Look out for our series of guest posts starting next week, where professional Irish genealogist Nicola Morris of timeline.ie will be exploring Irish records in more depth.