Free UK Genealogy is proud to announce two new features to assist our users.
FreeCEN (with free access to high quality transcriptions of nineteenth century British censuses) and FreeREG (with high quality transcriptions of registrations of baptism, marriage and burials) now have "friendly" permanent URLs to their records.
Records in FreeBMDwhich covers the civil registrations of birth, marriage and death in England and Wales has permanent URLs that you can copy and paste from the “info” page.
For FreeREG and FreeCEN, the URL displayed in the address bar of a detailed search results page will always take you back to that detailed search results page. There is a snippet of information in the "friendly" URL which will enable researchers to identify which URL belongs to which person's record.
The second new feature makes use of permanent URLs: if you want to cite a FreeCEN or FreeREG transcription in your family tree/academic work or take a note of a record of interest to return to it later, now you can do so using the Citation Generator button. This is located on the far right of the row of buttons after "Next Dwelling" and "New Search" on FreeCEN, and next to the "Export as JSON" button on FreeREG. Clicking there, you get a choice of which format of citation you want to use. As the generator uses the permanent URLs, it means you will always be able to go back to the record without having to search for it again.
These new features have been brought to you by our team of volunteer developers, and in the case of the citation generator, by Sudaraka Jayathilaka who developed this feature as an intern working with us as part of the Google Summer of Code programme. Google Summer of Code is a global programme that brings student developers into open source software development. Students work with an open source organisation on a 3 month programming project during their break from college or university. Sudaraka has written about his experience on his blog.
... and how this affects researchers and volunteers
The changes we're making at the moment will take FreeCEN into the future. We are no longer a lookup service, which is how we started. We are becoming a dynamic source of data for both the amateur and the professional.
In this post we will explain the issues driving the changes, and how they will affect you. It's broken down into the following sections:
A growing number of users are accessing the web through phones and tablets, rather than laptops and larger computers - they expect an interface that looks good and works well on a small screen. We think we are ‘almost there’ on this.
We also want to make the website more accessible. This work is just beginning.
We want to tackle some issues in searching, including:
Place: The boundaries used by the census are not easy to visualise, often cross historic boundaries (e.g. including parts of two counties) and change name and shape - so even if you know the village or part of a town your ancestor might have resided in, choosing which census district to filter by is not easy, particularly for those unfamiliar with the geography of the 19th century.
Names: The names used by people to record their place of birth are faithfully transcribed. But this also makes searching difficult, plus the person entering the data might know that their home village was in one county when they were born, and another at the time of the census, and chosen either. So we are looking into more choice of how you search, including a map-based search.
Too much choice: It can be difficult to know which of the many fields you should fill in, in order to be able to identify the person you are seeking, but not rule them out due to something not being recorded quite as you might have expected (we are looking into Artificial Intelligence to solve this one for you).
We also want to improve the quality of the data we transcribe - in the past, we have had to use abbreviations and compress two fields into one, in order to keep within the spreadsheet restrictions of 20 years ago. We're moving to a flexible spreadsheet (CSV) system which will mean transcribers can type what they see everywhere.
Volunteers may think "I am happy with what I am doing now." That's fine, you can keep doing what you are doing and we will continue to appreciate your work. It is very valuable. Alternatively, you can come along for the ride. You will find it is going to be a very exciting one!
You will have an option of either transcribing onto a spreadsheet as you have been doing, or transcribing online. The spreadsheet will look and feel very similar to the one you are using now, but there will be some changes.
Columns in the spreadsheet become fields in the FreeCEN database. As the fields in the database have become more flexible we can be more flexible in what you enter on your spreadsheet. For instance, transcribers put a lot of effort into making the Occupation fit the Occupation column. That will no longer be the case. You will be able to enter what you see without worrying about the length and some columns can be amended. Column H in the existing spreadsheet, for instance, contains details of unoccupied houses, people visiting away, buildings in progress etc. but it is also used for the query flag. We are looking at moving the query flag into its own column.
In the online version, you will be entering data directly into a database. You will, therefore, see field boxes on your screen instead of columns. Instead of your coordinator sending you images, via Dropbox, for instance, the image will be displayed on your screen. When you have transcribed all the rows on an image you then move on to the next image. Each field in the online database will exactly correspond to a column in the spreadsheet.
The online version will also capture the number attached to the image. This will allow FreeCEN the ability to link the image to the transcription and display the images on-screen for the researcher, much the same as commercial sites do now. We still need to work out how we are going to add this information to the almost 36 million records already online (as of November 2018) so the displaying of images is something for the future. Nevertheless, we can start to collect that information with the online version.
One difference between the spreadsheet and the online database is that a transcriber can stop and start wherever they wish. The online version is displayed one page at a time so transcription has to stop at the end of each page, and not in the middle of a page. Another difference is that transcribers can share a census piece. The next available page is displayed to each transcriber (not the same page). Once a page is transcribed it will not be displayed to anybody else.
So, whether you choose to keep transcribing on a spreadsheet or to transcribe online, the changes should make transcription easier.
When will all this happen?
The first test piece was transcribed in August 2018 and has been proofread and validated. We are creating a detailed audit trail for this piece so that the developers can refine the system.
There is a test piece available online if you wish to have a go. This is an 1871 Somerset piece that has already been published online. It has been made available for multiple people to transcribe, a page at a time. Once it has been completed we will perform a quality check to compare the shared transcription with the published version. We would like to know whether our quality drops using this method. You do not need to be a Somerset volunteer to work on this; anybody can give it a go. If you do give it a go, please give us feedback. That way we can continue to improve.
You will be using new software for the proofreading process. (No, we no longer have checkers - the transcribers' work is being proofread. Transcribers are not being checked on!).
Some proofreaders will remember the old WinCC software, used before we moved to proofreading spreadsheets. WinCC became incompatible with modern operating systems as it is badly in need of an upgrade. It certainly is not compatible with the new database format.
This upgrade will happen in conjunction with the introduction of the online transcription system. Once the transcription trial is finalised we will know the design of the proofreading software. We will also be able to make the decision whether this will be an online or offline process, or whether the proofreader will have the choice.
The trial transcription has been converted to a spreadsheet and the Proofreader is using a spreadsheet to proofread.
You will definitely be using new software. Neither FCTools nor ValdRev is compatible with the new database format. The validation process will not vary a great deal. The biggest change is that a map reference will be automatically attached to every Place of Birth. This will affect the way that the Validator manages the Validator’s Choice Place of Birth where the original entry cannot be found. The development of the map location system is in progress (as of November 2018). Once again we are not sure whether Validation will be online or offline, or whether there will be a choice.
Coordinators have already seen changes in registration of new volunteers. This will continue but you will have two methods of issuing transcription work: by sending images as you do at the moment, and by giving access to online images. The Coordinator will upload the online images to be transcribed from their master copies. The online software will record who has worked on these images, so the Coordinator will only need to keep track of who is working on the spreadsheet images.
Coordinators will also be able to upload their own completed data to the database. You used to be able to do this but during the changeover to FreeCEN2 this function was centralised to give more control. Uploading will be devolved back to the Coordinators in the foreseeable future.
We're about to give each record (household) a permanent URL. To do this, we recently made the “FreeCEN2 website” available at www.freecen.og.uk, and the existing website freecen1.freecen.org.uk. The old FreeCEN will be phased out in the future. We intend to develop new ways to search the data.
The addition of map references is one way of doing this, for example. Instead of having to know the county border in the year being researched, (or in the birth year of the person being looked for) a place will be able to be chosen. This place has a map reference. The search can then be done around that map reference. This would be transparent to the end user.
An example would be a researcher in the future looking for me. I was born in Bristol, census county GLS. However, I was brought up 7 miles away in Somerset (Census county SOM). Whenever I fill in a form I show my Place of Birth as Bristol (that was where the hospital was!). A future researcher would be frustrated searching the Bristol 1951 Census. I am not there. I am in a different county. However, a search of 10 miles around the map reference would discover my entry. A much better result for the researcher and for FreeCEN.
We tend to think of a researcher as somebody building their family tree. However, there are other types of researchers out there. A university student doing a PhD may need to identify the demographics of a specific geographical area in a specific timeframe. Because FreeCEN is an Open Data platform we can provide a data dump of that geographic area for the student to use. Once again this is a win-win for both the student and FreeCEN.
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:
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!
Surprisingly, perhaps, the census records we transcribe and share on www.freecen.org.uk also have information about death. On https://freecen1.freecen.org.ukyou 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:
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":
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.
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.