The information collected and used by genealogists is of interest to a wider audience, as family historians are not just interested in individuals, but also in local history and the lifestyle of their ancestors. We will now describe the types of information available in GENUKI, how it is organised and how it planned to increase the information in both quantity and depth of coverage in the future.
The geographic hierarchy consists, in the main, of four levels, the top level containing information relating to the whole of the UK and Ireland. Below this it is arranged according to country e.g. England, Scotland, Wales, then by county and at the lowest level according to town or parish. The standard set of subject headings used at each level are ones such as Census, Civil Registration, Church Records, History, and Probate.
The standards adopted also cover presentation and layout with the aim being to provide information quickly and in a form that most WWW browsers can display. Users are sited throughout the world, and they do not all have fast network connections. The information is therefore presented mainly as text with just a few images. This provides the fastest delivery of information and avoids delays caused by the transmission of images which usually affect the appearance but not the content. This has actually resulted in a number of comments about presentation, as many WWW sites tend to concentrate on looks rather than content, and in comparison with these it is not as visually attractive. The majority of the GENUKI information providers think that the correct balance has been achieved between style and the speed of information delivery.
A number of indexes are now being made available via GENUKI, and also other transcribed material, such as the Northowram Register (Horsfall Turner 1881) and a number of other old books. Care has been taken to ensure that all such material is out of copyright and/or is provided with the permission of the authors/transcribers. Links are included at the appropriate points in the GENUKI pages to any other relevant source.
The number of record transcripts and indexes that are currently available on GENUKI is still quite small, as the compilers often use them as a source of income to offset the cost of their production, and don't as yet want to make them freely available. It is hoped that as time progresses other people will follow the example of existing contributors and increase the amount of data available. Some of the transcripts and indexes currently available include:
A number of record repositories, such as the county record offices, are now starting to have their own home pages on the WWW. These are linked into GENUKI at the appropriate points in the geographical hierarchy, and so it can be used to help find out where particular classes of records are held. For example the Public Record Office publish a series of leaflets about their records which can be collected on a visit to the PRO. The PRO have their own WWW site, but at the moment, contains just some the information in the leaflets. But GENUKI has copies of them all online and accessible via the WWW with the permission of the PRO. It is expected that in time the PRO can provide all such information themselves.
The record transcripts and indexes are presented either as plain text, or html formatted files, and not as searchable databases. This has been because of the extra overhead required to provide such facilities, and differences in data formats and layout. Only one set of data has been made available as an online searchable database, which consists of the geographic location of approximately 15,000 churches in England, Scotland and Wales. Currently the majority of these are Church of England as existed in the early 19th century with an approximate National Grid reference. Work is being undertaken to obtain volunteers, with local knowledge, to expand this to include churches of all denominations up to the present day. Additional data being collected is denomination, an accurate grid reference, and founding and closing dates. The search facility allows users to specify a location and date, and it will report all that are found within a distance also specified by the user.
There is one type of data which we specifically do not include within GENUKI, which is personal family trees. Genealogists tend to be very keen to make this sort of information available to a wide audience, but it does take up a large amount of storage space and is of interest to just a very small audience who may have common ancestors. There are other sites which cater for this need so GENUKI does not contain such information, concentrating on providing information which may be of interest to a wider audience.
So an alternative means has been provided for navigating through the pages. This is done by providing a hierarchy of contents pages which is maintained in parallel to the data pages. It was originally presented as a single page, but as the number of pages increased, download times increased and the management of them needed to be devolved to a number of people. Consideration was given to producing these contents pages by a piece of software, but the need to produce short but meaningful text against each link, and an easily readable layout, meant that a manual approach had to be used.
This does not mean that WWW search engines cannot provide another means of finding information, but the contents pages make it very easy to see what information is available for a particular geographic area.
The program performs a number of functions whilst browsing the tree of WWW pages, the main ones being:
We are having success in developing links with Family History Societies, who are the bodies with the specialised knowledge of their particular areas, and who have the resources to develop historical data in a form that can be processed by a computer. Most of the English and Welsh societies are members of the Federation of Family History Societies, and it's Computer Advisory Group liases with GENUKI helping provide information helping make the specialist information provided by the member societies known to a wider audience (Randell and Stringer 1997).
The Family History Societies have been transcribing records for many years now and publish it for members and to the wider public if they know that it is available. The records of some information such as monumental inscriptions from graveyards that have been closed is sometimes now only available from the societies. Other information has only come to light through their work. For example some sections of the 1851 Manchester census have become difficult to read over time due to water damage and these have never been filmed and published. As much information as possible from these records is now being transcribed by members of the Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society at the PRO and published on microfiche, but this is only available from the society.
Following on from the success of transcribing and publishing the whole of the 1881 census (of which there is a machine readable copy), the FFHS is undertaking other national projects to transcribe other relevant information. The main one being the National Death & Burial index covering records of deaths for the early part of the 19th century. One of the difficulties of running such a project which is collecting a large amount of data is in finding the resources to combine the individual parts into a single dataset.
This is an area where we think GENUKI can help. Sections of it run on large systems which primarily exist to make similar information available to the academic community. The genealogists are now quite used to their information also being made available on these systems and it should be possible to reach agreement with them whereby resources are made available for the large tasks of combining individual sections of the data and in return the information could be made available for academic research. The GENUKI team will be investigating ways in which this can be progressed.
Heywood O. , Dickenson T., Edited by Horsfall Turner, J. (1881) The Nonconformist Register.
Randell B. , Stringer P. (1997) GENUKI - the Internet-Based UK & Ireland Genealogical Information Service. Family History News & Digest Vol. 11, No.1