• 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.

  • Vote (rumour correction)

    There is a rumour that Free UK Genealogy is taking a vote from volunteers and users of our websites (FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG) as to whether the sites should remain free, or should be behind a paywall.  This is simply not true.  

    There is no vote: the sites will remain free.

    Free UK Genealogy is a charity set up to achieve, and committed to 

    • the free provision of high quality transcriptions and (where possible) images of records of genealogical significance, 
    • the development of tools to support community transcription, and 
    • other activities that promote making family and wider history records available under open data formats.  

    We generate sufficient funds for our day-to-day expenses from banner advertising and the kind donations - often in small amounts - from users of our websites.  Of course, we would always like more money - to improve our existing projects and develop new ones, to support community transcription and to more widely make historical records available to all, for free. Please get in touch if you have ideas for projects or partnerships that you would like us to consider.

    There are a number of ways you can support us, and help the future development of Free UK Genealogy. 

    • You can donate (if you don't already do so).
    • You can spread the news about our projects, bringing them to the attention of those who would love to know we may have the information they are looking for.
    • If you buy online (e.g. groceries, books, electronics) please consider signing up for our Easy Fundraising page.  You will only pay what you normally do on your online shopping, but we will be given a small amount, at no extra cost to you.  Easy Fundraising will prompt you, when you visit a website which is part of the scheme (or when you do a search, that a result is part of the scheme).
    • You can volunteer in one of a number of roles - from transcribing to programming in Ruby, to working on social media campaigns.  This includes the opportunity to be a Trustee, or provide your professional knowledge through our new advisory board.