• Brick Wall Challenge: Open Data Day 2020

    We have been inundated with responses so have closed for this year.

    ___________________________________________________

    We're holding a 'Genealo-thon' on Saturday the 7th March, using our records to help break down your brick walls.

    Why not get some fresh eyes on your Brick Wall Ancestor? This year for Open Data Day we're hosting a Brick Wall Challenge! Send us as much information as you have on your 'brick wall' ancestor (BWA) and the Free UK Genealogy community will try to help you push that ancestral line back a generation using our freely available Open Data.

    Use the form below to tell us as much as you can about your BWA and if your application is progressed we will be in touch!

    When sending us a FamilySearch tree link, please make sure the focus is on your brick wall ancestor, or other ancestor; if it is on yourself, we won't be able to view your tree.

    If you'd like to be involved from the other side, to help break down the Brick Walls, this is the page for you: https://www.freeukgenealogy.org.uk/news/2020/02/14/brick-wall-team/

  • Linking Places in the Past

    Free UK Genealogy Has Been Awarded a Grant to Link-Up Places in the Past

    Victorian map showing Bassingham, Lincoln and Newark

    Map of Newark and Lincoln, and places in between,  Licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) by: GBHGIS/UoP

    Free UK Genealogy has been awarded a grant by Pelagios Commons which will enable us - and others - to help users identify the geographic areas mentioned in old records.

    The Pelagios Network connects researchers, scientists and curators to link and explore the history of places. They have been primarily creating facilities to permit the online linking of resources for those interested in early Mediterranean cultures (not really our territory!). In the process they have developed a very effective way of collaborating and sharing the information they have individually recorded about people and places, and are looking to broaden the scope of what they do to the rest of history. To achieve this they have awarded a number of small grants. As a direct result of the widening of the Pelagios group’s interest, it is creating a community for those interested in places in the past, and Free UK Genealogy is now part of that community.

    Our successful bid will enable us to work with Free UK Genealogy Advisory Board member, Professor Humphrey Southall of the University of Portsmouth. Humphrey and his team have mapped the administrative units used in Great Britain across history -  the Administrative Units Ontology (AUO). The AUO includes counties, registration districts, parishes and so on - and associated them with their dates and sources such as gazeteers to create the Great Britain Historical Geographic Information System (GBHGIS). This data underpins, and is available at, the Vision of Britain website. We will publish this as Linked Data with a creative commons licence and will be using the Pelagios Gazetteer Interchange Format (PGIF) in order that others wanting to use this data can easily do so.

    The project is being undertaken by FreeUKgenealogy chair, Richard Light.  You can read more about it at his blog, here https://medium.com/@PelagiosNetwork/aou-resources-as-a-pelagios-gif-resource-an-update-d4ad01dcef47.  An example of how this might be used in our projects. Richard is working to enable searching by overlapping units - so if you have, for example, a baptism in Bassingham, Lincolnshire, in 1829, overlapping units that might have this person included in the 1841 and later censuses (Registration District: Newark, Nottinghamshire). Or you might have a family knowledge that an ancestor lived near the navigable Trent - and might want to use a map based search to look for records in places along its course.

    Historic map of Newark and environs, and map showing location of Newark in the centre of England

    Newark, maps from the Vision of Britain, Licence (CC BY-SA 4.0) by: GBHGIS/UoP

    The Pelagios linked data will not only be of direct value to Free UK Genealogy, but will allow others with historic geodata to start to use the Pelagios linked data as a consistent way of identifying what, where, and when. Allowing the administrative units to be used more widely and more accurately by genealogists and other historians of all kinds creates open-ended possibilities, but until the data it is there in this linked format it can’t happen.

  • 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 also have information about death. On https://freecen1.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.

  • Trust : Enrichment : Openness

    Archives Unlocked, the vision for Archives in England 

    Archives Unlocked was launched by the National Archives yesterday, 29th March. This is a compact, but important document: “IN SHORT: ARCHIVES MATTER. Our collections need to be used to be useful.”  This is not a new philosophy, but it has new implications, driven by three changes in the context of archives which have become more apparent over the last decade or so, and the last months. The technological and social context is characterised by the concern for digital and accessibility in the UK Digital Strategy section on heritage. This is joined by a concern for confidence in information in an era of false news, and the removal of old obfuscations and lies through examination of archival material.

    “TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE Digital technology has fundamentally changed what it means to be an archive. Archivists can help the IT and knowledge management communities by bringing professional archival practice to this digital world”,

    “USER EXPECTATIONS Society is changing, opening up new uses for data and records, and posing new questions about what is collected now and in the future, in both paper-based documents and digital formats”. 

    The third change is “CONFIDENCE IN DATA AND INFORMATION People need to have confidence in the integrity of institutions. Organisations need to be open and transparent, and high profile enquiries into the history and culture of public, corporate and charitable bodies have highlighted the evedential value of records.” 

    The Vision document changed significantly in response to the changes we experienced particularly through the second half of 2016: the importance of access, particularly digital access and access to born-digital information highlighted when the importance of this data for confidence in institutions became clearer: it is not enough for the data to be preserved, or for it to be reliably transmitted, but also for it to be open and transparent.

    This context leads to three high-level visions, for Trust, Enrichment and Openness, with case studies and think pieces for those who would like to delve further, and action plans for those who are involved with delivering the vision, in whatever capacity.

    How Free UK Genealogy helps to achieve that vision (using the language of Archives Unlocked).

    Trust

    People and institutions trust in the quality of our type-what-you-see transcriptions as an authentic representation of archived records, supported by our openness about the limitations of a transcription, and the need for researchers to verify information. 

    • Democracy and society are strengthened by enabling free, comprehensive, remote scrutiny of the archival record, holding institutions and individuals to account.
    • Users have confidence in the integrity and authenticity of our transcriptions, and in the charity and its volunteers who support their research.
    • We embrace the opportunities of technological change, ensuring confidence in both born-digital and transcribed records.

    Enrichment

    Our work enhances and enriches our society intellectually, economically and culturally.

    • Our culture of knowledge and learning and our commitment to open data expands through new ways to discover and use archive material.
    • Open data means value in businesses(1) can grow through the use of archive material to support change, innovation and efficiency.
    • People’s lives are enhanced through their engagement with archive collections.

    Openness

    Free UK Genealogy cultivate an open approach to knowledge, makes archive records accessible to all.

    • We aim to deliver an excellent user experience, enabling people to find, access and interpret archive records
    • The rich diversity of society is increasingly reflected in our archives’ collections, users and workers (including volunteers).
    • We are networked globally to maintain excellent practice and open new possibilities for institutions and users.

    In some of these areas, we have almost 20 years’ experience as an institution, and huge experience as individuals.  In others, we have just started on our paths towards truth, enrichment and openness. The work plan will help us in that, and we in turn can help others in the wider archive world.

    The plan focuses on three themes:

    DIGITAL CAPACITY. Develop the digital capacity of the archives sector, to preserve digital records, and increase discoverability of the paper and digital archive. 

    RESILIENCE. Build the sectors resilience to ensure more archives can meet and sustain the Archive Service Accreditation standard, open the sector to new skills and a more diverse workforce, increase income generation capacities, and support innovative service models. 

    IMPACT. Demonstrate the impact of archives by developing and expanding audiences, piloting approaches to using data and evidence, and influencing thinking in the IT, commercial and knowledge sectors.

    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/archives/Action-Plan-Accessibility-Version.pdf

    The plan will be delivered over the next three years, each a separate phase:

    PHASE 1 - BUILDING THE PLATFORM. Scope and design the infrastructure that will give archives the capacity, knowledge and development tools for delivering the three themes of the action plan. 

    PHASE 2 - DEVELOPING CAPACITY. Design and test new models of delivering world-class archive services, working with partners on research and guidance in order to enable the development of new archive practice. 

    PHASE 3 - SHAPING THE FUTURE. Enable services to influence new delivery streams in emerging technologies, policies and strategies, within and beyond the archives sector.

    (1) One change between the consultation version of Archives Unlocked and the published version which we argued for was a fundamental shift from seeing ‘commercial’ relationships in terms of behind-paywall datasets: a wider vision of the contribution of archives to economic sustainability (as opposed to the contribution of business to the budgets of archives) is both more representative of the wider archive community, and fit much better with a vision for archives that has truth, enrichment and openness as its aims.  This is not to say that there is no role in this world for commercial partners who limit access: if they are providing enrichment that cannot be made by the archive or not-for-profit partners, they still have an important role, and will still be contributing to economic sustainability.

    Quotations and adaptations from Archives Unlocked are © Crown copyright 2017.

    This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government