Saturday, September 30, 2006

Warwickshire Farewell

It is six years since, encouraged by the easy start-up of the Cornish 1891 project, I decided to run a similar project for the Warwickshire 1891 returns. At first, the project only covered the districts of Aston and Birmingham, because all my ancestral lines lived in Aston from 1845 onwards. But gradually, the project grew till it covered the whole of Warwickshire – 122 “pieces” that eventually produced about 780,000 records.

Each record has been transcribed, checked, validated and generally buffed up; finally being uploaded to Free Census and to the Warwickshire web site run by Pickard Trepess. Each piece was produced from a 3 or 4 fiche set, loaned to me by the Church of Latter-Day Saints of Jesus Christ – the LDS or Mormons. Transcribers, living anywhere from Hong Kong to Vancouver via Australia and New Zealand, transcribed the contents of the fiche set to produce a data file that was then sent to a checker. The checkers worked their way through the data, identifying and fixing errors. Finally, I validated the work, ending up with a data file for uploading to Free Census. This file also went to Pickard to convert to html for his web pages.

About 150 people worked on the project and a list will be published shortly. I would like to particularly mention Jeanagh Punter, who for several years worked as the project recruiter and Pickard, who not only produces the html files and hosts the web site, but for the early years was an invaluable help with “technical” issues. I do have another list, luckily a lot shorter, of those people who vanished with the microfiche set. I won’t publish that. An even sadder list is of the five people who died “in harness”; one of them only a couple of weeks ago. This last one, an Australian, had worked on the project from the very beginning. I owe him, and all the other the other volunteers, a great debt.

What now? First I shall cut a disc containing the data and send it to the Mormons, The National Archives and the Archive of Historical Data at the University of Essex. I might also send a copy to the various societies engaged in Warwickshire family history; although none of them have ever shown the slightest interest in the project. Then I shall settle down to a slow steady review of the lot – to try and eliminate some of the uncertainties and to incorporate the corrections that kind people have emailed in.

I am not going to do any more Warwickshire census returns, but I wish the organiser of the 1861 project all the best and hope that someone somewhere will be encouraged enough by my words to start up the 1871 project! Better than watching television!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Public Relations No 3

The Cornwall online Census Project aims to transcribe all the Cornish 19th century census returns and make them accessible online free of charge. You’ll find the complete 1841 and 1891 censuses for Cornwall already online at as is 83 per cent of the 1851 census, 96 per cent of the 1861, 35 per cent of the 1871, and seven per cent of the 1881. There area also three pieces (donated and unchecked) for the 1901 census.

Most of the transcribed records are also available at – the Free Census Project site.

The Online Parish Clerk scheme began in Cornwall about five years ago and has spread to Cumberland & Westmorland, Devon, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire, Sussex, Warwickshire and Wiltshire. Volunteers adopt one or more parishes and collect family history information about the parishes, offering free ‘look-ups’ for researchers.

You can now search a combined database at which contains around 330,000 records from the Cornish OPCs. At present, the information is mainly from Church of England parish registers, but Nonconformist registers and other records are expected to be included in the future.

Four volunteers are currently transcribing births, marriages and deaths from the 19th century West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser newspaper, plus court cases. Go to to view the transcripts.

[Published in the October 2006 edition of Practical Family History magazine]

Public Relations No 2

Cornwall is an unusual English county, not least because many people will tell you that it is not English or a county! It is also unusual in that it is further advanced towards becoming fully online, as far as family history research is concerned. As the organiser of the Cornwall Online Census project I thought I would let other readers know what online resources are available to Cornish researchers.

At the centre of Cornish online research are the Cornish GENUKI pages ( These provide links to anything and everything to do with Cornish family history. The pages are organised on a hierarchical basis and lead to some 260 town and parish pages and some more general pages. Normally GENUKI aims to use the county and parishes as they were in 1850 but these Cornish pages also include new parishes created towards the end of the 19th century. The Cornish GENUKI pages are constantly being updated, so it is worth checking them frequently.

We started the Cornwall Online Census Project in the summer of 2000, transcribing the 1891 returns from fiche supplied by the LDS. Within 18 months the first returns were online having gone through the process of transcription, checking and validation. By 1st July this year the 1841 and 1891 censuses were complete along with 90 per cent of the 1851 & 1861; 40 per cent of the 1871; and ten per cent of the 1881). The aim of the project is to transcribe all the Cornish 19th census returns and place them online free-to-view at

We also have an online parish clerk scheme, which started in Cornwall about four years ago and has now spread to half a dozen other counties. Volunteers adopt a parish or parishes and seek to accumulate information and data about their parish. Their primary aim is to offer free “look ups” for researchers, using via the Cornish mailing lists. The OPC scheme has now launched its own searchable online “free-to-view” database ( Starting just over a month ago it already has over a quarter of a million records online. At present it is concentrating on Church of England registers, but its scope will expand to cover non-conformist registers and other types of data (burials for example).

There are two Cornish mailing lists. The main Cornish list, Cornish-L, is for all things Cornish, while Cornish-GEN is a list strictly for family history. The Cornish-L list is home to the famous (or infamous) virtual Christmas party! Details of how to subscribe can be found at Rootsweb.

[published in November 2006 edition of Family History Monthly]

Public Relations No 1

Hello folks

I have just managed to get pieces about Cornwall online activities published in two of the three main UK family history magazines. Both pieces will follow this one. The first one was published as a letter; the second as a small piece. Both pieces are edited versions of my text.

My aim in this is twofold. First of all - there is no point in our doing all this work, if no one knows about it. Secondly, it might recruit more people to help us in our great task.

My aim in publishing the pieces on here is to encourage you all to try your hand in your own countries. Most of the English speaking world now enjoys any number of paper and electronic FH magazines. You don't have to slavishly lift my words, feel free to edit or rewrite as you see fit. But do have a go.

Don't forget to let me know if you have any success.



Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Newsletter No 14

Hello folks

In addition to taking a week's holiday, I am also struggling with computer problems. All my own fault as well. Much of the information I need access to is on the computer that is now in hospital; and as I expect it back every day, I haven't bothered to install it on this machine.

In spite of things generally, a considerable amount of work has been completed. Some five 1851 parishes have gone, or are about to go, online. Plus a similiar number of 1871 pieces and a couple of 1881. The 1861 is on its last three pieces.

On the wider scene, I have just finished the last of the 122 Warwickshire 1891 pieces. Only took six years. 780,000 records, all transcribed and online, for free.

I am hoping that the 1861 will be finished by the end of the year, followed soon after by the 1851.

It would be nice to hear from everyone!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

COCP General Instructions Pt 2

Project transcription software.

You are transcribing from discs lent to us by the LDS. The copyright is quite clear. Copyright in the images and contents of UK census returns is held by the Crown. The Crown has waived its copyright for the contents and licensed the copying of the images for commercial profit. Any transcription is the copyright of the transcriber, given that the Crown has waived its copyright. The transcriber can do with it what he or she likes, including giving it to Free Census. We have that in writing from the PRO.

Each transcriber will be supplied with five files. Three are browser files and tell you everything you need to know! There are also two spreadsheet files. Any spreadsheet will do. CENSDEMO shows you what your spreadsheet should look like when you have got going. The other is your working spreadsheet. This is a templated spreadsheet whose main effect is to prevent transcribers exceeding the set column widths.

If you are an Apple user or do not have a floppy drive, please contact me before you try start work.

When you open this spreadsheet, you will see that the first three rows are completed for you. The first has the piece number, the second has the column headings, the third lots of lower case letters. These are there to indicate to you the maximum width you are to work to in each column. These three rows must be left intact. The spreadsheet supplied is designed to stop you exceeding this column width.

It can be saved as a spreadsheet but as it gets larger you may need to do your backups as .csv files. Tell me if you do not know about csv formatting. You should do regular backups to floppies or some other medium. Please do not omit this precaution.

Bill O'Reilly will also conduct a ‘health’ check on your first six or so pages. Please do this because not only is it easier to catch mistakes early on, but it will let us know you have actually started. Just email your file to him. You can request these health checks at any time.

You will be allocated a piece to do although the disc supplied may have several pieces on it. This piece will have up to 3,000 records on some 150 pages. 1861 pieces are larger than those of the 1871. However, some of these pages will contain little or no data to be transcribed. How you do it is up to you. You can transcribe direct into the software or to paper.