As the beginning of June is National Volunteers Week (1st – 7th June) in the UK, I thought it would be a good time to talk about genealogy volunteering.
Online genealogy has quickly become the normal way for many people to research their family history, but have you thought about how these records end up online for you to use?
All of the free to access websites and databases rely heavily on volunteers to transcribe, and in some cases digitalise, records so we can use them.
Free UK Genealogy
I became a volunteer on the FreeBMD website in 2013, after using the database for my own research for almost two decades, as I felt I needed some way to repay the work of the volunteers before me, and help towards making genealogy records free to access online. The process was very easy, and I was not expected to do a set number of records or pages over a specific period of time. I would be given a couple of pages from the GRO index and once I had transcribed them into a simple database they provided, and uploaded them to the website, I could request more copies from my project manager who was there to answer any questions I might have about the process. I found that doing one column each day took about 20 minutes, which suited me at the time.
A couple of years ago I felt I needed a bit more of a challenge from transcribing typed indexes so asked to join the FreeREG team, who are transcribing ALL of the information on parish registers throughout the country. This needed a bit more concentration as, anyone who has looked at parish registers will know, the handwriting is not always easy to read. The marriage registers are the hardest, as you need to transcribe the names of the witnesses from their signature alone. Not an easy task! I went through a brief training period so they could check my accuracy and to ensure I understood the process, before I was passed onto the co-ordinator for my chosen County of Sussex. These records are harder to do in the same way as the BMD indexes, one column at a time, so I either limit myself to a set number of records or a set period of time, depending on my circumstances at the time. Sometimes I spend a little as 30 minutes a month and others I can spend half a day or more. Even after a gap of a couple of months between uploading the transcriptions, I never felt hurried by my very patient co-ordinator.
If you are interested you can contact them via: www.freeukgenealogy.org.uk/about/volunteer
Volunteering with Other Websites:
Free UK Genealogy is not the only organisation that uses volunteers. FamilySearch, UKBMD and the Online Parish Clerks projects use volunteer transcribers/indexers, as well as an array of other independent websites.
As they are run by volunteers, many need help in other areas as well, such as helping to maintain the computer databases, running the organisation and dealing with social media accounts and publicity. Even if you are not a transcriber, you may be able to help in other ways.
Who to contact:
Online Parish Clerks – Contact the individual project. A list can be found here: http://www.ukbmd.org.uk/online_parish_clerk
If you want something less formal, you could add information to websites such as findagrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=abr . There is no project co-ordinator, you simply transcribe the gravestones in a cemetery or church yard close to you, take a photograph and add the details to the website. Just check someone has not already done the place you choose. Personally I prefer to add historic, rather than new, graves, and feel that adding information simply from recent obituaries can be unfeeling to the bereaved family, but some people have been known to do just that.
Just because the County Archive Offices employ staff, does not mean they do not need your help. Both of my local archives have advertised for help with specific projects. When time allows I help out at the East Riding Archives researching the lives of WW1 servicemen for their WW1 Lives project. It is different from just transcribing information and you get to use some sources which you may not have used before.
Some archives advertise for volunteers on their websites such as the Cheshire Archives, the Bath Record Office, and The National Archives (TNA) at Kew, London. (http://archives.cheshire.gov.uk/about-us/volunteers.aspx , https://www.batharchives.co.uk/volunteering and http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/get-involved/volunteering ).
Others may not have anything on their website, but it would be worth asking them directly about opportunities.
In addition to County Archives, smaller independent archives may also need your help. This can range from helping as a guide in an independent museum, cataloguing artefacts and a range of different administration roles. The TNA website lists many of these archives which range from large well known institutions to smaller rural museums. It may not be a comprehensive list, but it does give a lot of scope to choose from. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/find-an-archive
Family History Societies:
One of the other places that may appreciate your help is your local family history society. A list can be found here: http://www.ffhs.org.uk/members2/contacting.php . Although you will need to be a member, the membership fees are generally only a few pounds per year. Each society will have different projects, as well has roles of running the Society, such as website maintenance, arranging speakers for monthly meetings and publicity etc.
A Duty of Care:
Many family history researchers feel a need to preserve their ancestry for future generations to access. I believe that we should all try to ensure that all historically based records should also be preserved, and in this throwaway society, we can help to make a difference to the researchers of the future.
Remember yesterday is history and one day may be seen as important by our descendants.