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Family Researcher - December 1995

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An Internet-Based 
Genealogical Reference Library for
the United Kingdom & Ireland


by

Malcolm Austen, Vivienne Dunstan, Brian Randell, 
Alan Stanier, Phil Stringer, and John Woodgate


Many genealogists use computers to store and analyze information, and to 
generate neatly formatted reports and family trees, as well as for such basic 
tasks as word processing. However growing numbers are now equipping 
themselves with the means to connect their computer to a telephone and hence 
to a data communications network, and so make use of their computer to 
exchange "electronic mail" with other computer users, and obtain information 
from electronic data repositories. 

In this last year in Britain there has been much publicity in the media about the 
Internet. The Internet is in fact really a "network of networks", i.e. the means 
by which a set of hitherto separate computer networks can used as a single 
very large network. (There are direct parallels with the way the telephone 
system developed. The first telephone users were connected to just a single 
telephone exchange, and could talk only to people who also happened to be 
connected to that particular exchange. Only later were all the telephone 
exchanges interconnected so that any telephone subscriber could talk to any 
other subscriber.) 

The rate of growth of the Internet is amazing - it is doubling in size every two 
years, and is currently estimated to have a total of perhaps 30 million users 
worldwide - including, needless-to-say, a large number of genealogists! One 
current reason for this growth is the invention of the World Wide Web. This is 
an Internet-based service (often referred to as WWW) which enables 
documents and databases held on computers all round the world to be linked 
together into what appears to users to be a single huge multi-page document. 

This "document" can in fact include not just text, but also pictures, sound and 
video. Users can browse through it, copying or printing off anything of interest 
to them, without any need to be aware of the fact that multiple computers and 
sophisticated computer networks are actually involved. They move from page 
to page in this huge document using "links" (typically represented using 
underlined words and phrases), which if selected by a user, and "clicked" on, 
will cause the current open page to be replaced by the page referred to.

The present WWW system with its very user-friendly (free!) software is little 
over two years old, but already there are many thousands of computers 
connected to it. Between them these computers contain an immense amount of 
information. This information remains under the control of the individuals and 
organizations who own these computers, but now they have a convenient way 
of allowing - should they so wish - users all over the world easy access to their 
information.

This year, aided by a growing number of other volunteers (few of whom have 
ever met each other face-to-face), we have been setting up a free information 
service for UK and Irish genealogy on the World Wide Web. This service, 
which we call GENUKI, already involves computers in Belfast, Colchester, 
Manchester, Newcastle Oxford and St Andrews, and provides links to many 
others. However from the users' point of view this fact is irrelevant. Rather, 
users find that the GENUKI service provides them with an ever-growing 
online reference library that is organized in much the same way that the LDS 
Family History Library and its Catalogue are organized. 

GENUKI was first made available for general use in late March 1995, since 
when its development has continued apace. It was the subject of a brief 
published description that appeared in the June issue of Family Tree 
Magazine; a much lengthier account of its design was published in the 
September issue of Computers in Genealogy. And in August 1995 it received 
a Top 5% of All Web Sites award. 

We have initially concentrated on providing information of relevance to the 
UK & Ireland as whole, or to the one of the six major constituent regions 
(England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands). 
Now we are gradually building up the county-level information, and starting to 
get information at town/parish level. The types of information we have 
generated or obtained include general tutorial information, details of major 
archives and their holdings, book recommendations, transcribed information 
leaflets (e.g. over a hundred from the PRO), and indexes or transcripts of such 
material as town directories, monumental inscriptions, gazetteers, etc. 

The GENUKI activity is now obtaining very welcome encouragement and 
support from the Federation of Family History Societies and the Society of 
Genealogists, as well as from a growing number of local family history 
societies. This is through the provision to us of information such as basic 
membership details, coming events, library holdings, current computer 
projects, journal contents listings, and detailed publications lists. (The local 
societies that have so far joined in include: Buckinghamshire FHS; Catholic 
FHS; Clwyd FHS; Cornwall FHS; Derbyshire FHS; Devon FHS; Dyfed FHS; 
FHS of Cheshire; Hillingdon FHS; Huddersfield & District FHS; Manchester 
& Lancashire FHS; North of Ireland FHS; Northumberland & Durham FHS; 
and Oxfordshire FHS.)

A recent analysis of GENUKI usage, over a period of 125 days, shows that the 
number of times that the Service has been accessed has risen fairly steadily 
from about 250 to nearly 450 times per day on average. These enquiries came 
over 70 different countries in all, and from nearly 9,000 different users. (All 
these figures are in fact underestimates, since not all accesses can be 
monitored.)

To make use of this new service it is merely necessary to have a suitable 
computer, means of access to the Internet, and appropriate software in the 
form of a program called a "Web Browser". Such software is available free for 
IBM-compatible PCs, Apple Macintoshes, and UNIX systems. When so 
equipped, all that is needed to start making use of GENUKI is to give the 
address of its starting page (http://www.genuki.org.uk/). 

This page is shown in Fig. 1. Selecting and "clicking" on the underlined phrase 
"British Isles" will result in the user being presented on his or her screen with 
a new page, the top part of which is shown in Fig. 2. A few more selections 
and clicks and the user will be able to reach the page describing the PRO 
Information Leaflets whose text is available online. Part of this page is shown 
in Fig. 3 as our final example. (All these figures have been taken directly from 
a computer screen and show, albeit only in black and white, exactly what a 
user would see.)

It is our hope that GENUKI will, through the aid of the various societies now 
becoming involved with it, gradually develop into an invaluable resource for 
all genealogists interested in UK & Irish genealogy - readers of Family 
Researcher are therefore cordially invited to try it for themselves, and to make 
their own assessment of its present and likely future usefulness.