Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Cornish OPC scheme - a personal view.

Looking round at the family history scene now, it is difficult to remember what it was like ten years ago when the OPC scheme was conceived. No Ancestry, no Familysearch and most people using computers had just been promoted from using toasters!

The three of us first met at the AGM of the CFHS, although we had been in touch via the internet and Paul and David had actually met as the latter returned from Canada. At the AGM we asked what were the plans of the CFHS to use digital media including the internet. Not only did they have no plans, but later correspondence revealed that the Chairman at that time was actively hostile to anything electronic.

The first sign of the changes to come was the successful launch of FreeBMD. All those hours we spent pouring over microfiche or huge books to locate the reference numbers you needed to buy an ancestral certificate. Now, hundreds of volunteers were transcribing the indexes and putting them online – free-to-view.

A sister project of FreeBMD was FreeCen. In 1999 that project was running a pilot project transcribing the Devon 1891 returns. I invited myself aboard and started off transcribing the Cornwall 1891. I was pleasantly surprised to find volunteers easy to recruit. So easy, that we started up the 1841 in parallel.

After the AGM, the three of us decided to meet for a pub lunch once a month to discuss family history. Occasional shouting attracted interest from the regulars and we got FH questions from some of them. We thought that, given the successful launch of the census project, that it would be nice to turn to the parish registers and give them the same treatment. Then we decided that we quite liked the “adopt-a-parish” idea. But it was the arrival of the name “Online Parish Clerk” that spurred us into action.

We liked it because it married the internet to family history. We also widened the scope to include any data, not just parish registers. We also liked it because it involved the worldwide Cornish online society. A feature of the Cornish census project was something that the organizers of FreeCen didn’t like. The emphasis in recruiting was on the Cornishness of the project.

Initially, the job of scheme co-ordinator was just to maintain a list of parishes and OPCs. Recruiting was done by occasional messages on the Cornish Rootsweb mailing lists. In addition, we appealed for anyone who had transcribed parish registers to gift their work to us. Our intention was to accumulate these transcripts to place them online free-to-view – one day.

This approach was maintained for two or three years with considerable success. Things changed when Myra took over as co-ordinator. The scheme acquired its own web site with a page for each parish. Then the searchable online database was created. The transcription of parish registers took off when the LDS started to supply copies on disc. Under Myra’s epic leadership, other sources of data were incorporated into the database.

In my opinion, Myra, aided by Diane Donohue, Julia Mossman and Bill O’Reilly, has created a scheme that is better than our original vision. I look forward to the next ten years!