GENUKI -- The UK and Ireland Genealogical Information Service on the Internet
by David Tippey
[This article appeared in the May 1998 issue of Family History Monthly, and is reproduced here with permission.
The UK and Ireland Genealogical Information Service (GENUKI) web pages are probably the most important starting point for anyone using the internet as an aid to their genealogical research. Supported by the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle among others, they are maintained by volunteers, and provide an invaluable guide to the genealogical information available on the World Wide Web.
GENUKI is growing rapidly as more and more libraries, record offices and individual genealogists publish their research on the web. If you have a modem and internet connection for your computer and are working within the British Isles, an early visit to the GENUKI home page at http://www.genuki.org.uk/ is essential. If you don't have your own internet connection, you can probably access it via a local college or library. There are now also cyber cafes in most of the larger cities now, where you can have a cup of coffee and browse the web for an hour or so. Logging on at a cyber cafe or college, where there is help available from trained staff, is a good way to find out about the internet before subscribing to the system yourself.
Unfortunately, researchers in the UK might be disappointed by the amount of relevant information they'll find. From a genealogists' point of view, the net is still only a medium for exchanging ideas, not a record office in cyberspace, though you might find some indexes or records among its pages. However, the web does offer you the opportunity to survey the resources which are available in record offices and libraries, as well as the services offered by family history societies around Britain and overseas.
The real strength of the internet is that it allows family historians all over the world to e-mail each other via newsgroups and mailing lists. It's always a great joy to share your passion for the subject with other people, and to pool the fruits of your own research, while helping other people with theirs. Belonging to a mailing list is a bit like being in a club, and a club will only survive if all the members contribute to it.
Having used GENUKI, you'll find that you refer to it all the time to check library opening hours or to access record office catalogues. In fact, the information on the internet would fill a library, and it's all available without leaving home and for the cost of a local phone call.
The GENUKI home page explains what the service offers, how it's organised and the way to go about finding information on particular subjects. GENUKI has information on a wide variety of other useful topics, and these sections are supported by the self-explanatory `Frequently Asked Questions' (FAQs) page. A separate section contains a guide to British records for anyone working from abroad, while there are also guides to sources for genealogical research overseas.
Anyone using GENUKI should remember that its name is somewhat misleading -- the website actually covers the British Isles and Ireland, rather than just the United Kingdom, and therefore includes information about the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, as well as England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The UK and Ireland hypertext link leads to the main menu, where you will find the contents arranged in a hierarchical file structure, familiar to regular computer users. The system is initially split into two sections, one of which contains 28 categories relating to the whole of the British Isles, the other dealing with individual regions.
There is also a cover-all category titled `All the British Isles', which contains information about national archives, the records they contain and guides to using them. Other subjects falling within this category are more specific, although they generally refer to documents which are held in county record offices, and not among national archives. However, it is well worth browsing through the general index at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/ and downloading the guides which are featured there, especially the PRO ones.
The British GENUKI categories are as follows:
- Archives and Libraries
- Civil Registration
- Description and Travel
- Emigration and Immigration
- Land and Property
- Merchant Marine
- Names, Personal
- Church Records
- Military Records
Some of these sections are very brief, with only a single link, others provide cross-references to a great many related web pages.
Some contain lists and indexes, like the "Passengers and Crew of the RMS Titanic" and "Army Motorcyclists -- 1914", but there are no significant collections such as the 1881 Census Index, or the St. Catherines Indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Here's some further information about the following categories:
Archives and Libraries
From this site you can access various other pages where you will find information about national libraries and archives, their addresses and opening times, and information they contain. You can also download various guides including the useful PRO series of leaflets and an excellent guide to family history research through the Mormon Family History Centres. Project EARL electronically links many public libraries in the UK, and its Familia section provides information about the local studies collections at participating libraries. Some libraries offer an "Ask a librarian" service by e-mail, and will supply answers to your questions in a couple of days.
Several library catalogues can accessed and searched on-line, for instance, COPAC is a combined on-line guide to some of the largest University libraries in the British Isles, while Portico gives you access to the British Library catalogue. You will still have to go to a library to look at the actual information you want, but at least you can find out what is available beforehand and save yourself valuable time during your visit. You may even be able to pre-order items you wish to consult.
Maps and Gazetteers
Certificate and census entries often throw up as many questions as they answer, particularly when you're not familiar with any of the places they refer to, and you might even be able to access on-line street maps.
The Ordnance Survey Gazetteer is an on-line version of their printed guide to the place names contained in the 1:50,000 scale Landranger series of maps. It will give you the location of all the places which exist today. However, since many villages have changed their names or were absorbed by nearby towns and cities, you might have to refer to an older map.
From the societies page you can find the postal addresses for local family history societies throughout the country. Many of these societies have now established web pages to advertise the services they offer and the pamphlets and microfiche which they sell. You will also find national genealogical organisations on the internet, and the Society of Genealogists, the Guild of One-Name Studies and the Federation of Family History Societies all have web sites.
Newsgroups and Mailing Lists
If you reach a dead end in your research, you can always ask for help on the web by posting a question to a newsgroup or a mailing list. You will be surprised at the results such an enquiry can produce, however obscure its subject. For discussions on topics relating to the British Isles in general, there are links to the two newsgroups associated with GENUKI: soc.genealogy.britain and soc.genealogy.ireland and their corresponding mailing lists, genbrit-l and genire-l. Both the newsgroups and mailing lists carry the same messages, so you can use whichever you prefer. Many other mailing lists now exist for queries relating to specific counties, and these can be found listed in the GENUKI regional pages.
GENUKI is organised by county, though the amount and the kind of information available at each site varies from county to county, and often depends on the enthusiasm of local family history societies or individual genealogists in the area. My home county is Yorkshire, which also happens to be the largest, containing the three Ridings -- virtually counties in their own right. However, for such a large, populous region, information about Yorkshire is rather thin on the ground. Some smaller counties have numerous local indexes and transcripts available on-line, but Yorkshire has very few. This is even more surprising in view of the fact that the area is covered by no less than 14 family history societies, many of which have sites on the internet.
The structure and content of the Yorkshire pages is fairly similar to those relating to other counties. They start with a brief description of the county, in this case taken fromBartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887.
Information about Yorkshire is then split into several categories.
- Archives and Libraries
- Civil Registration
- Church Records
- Description and Travel
- Land and Property
- Military Records
- Towns and Parishes
Archives and Libraries offers links to a variety of institutions in the county. Some, like the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (University of York) will only take you to an information page, others offer a little more. For example, the Brynmor Jones Library, Archives and Manuscripts link gives you access to a catalogue of holdings, which includes family and estate papers and solicitors archives. The West Yorkshire Archive web site lists publications, information on current projects and information for researchers, which includes a useful guide to sources available in the area.
Cemeteries takes you to Rod Neep's Index to Monumental Inscription Transcripts for Yorkshire.
Church Records includes links to Paul Joiner's Marriage Index for Durham and the North Riding of Yorkshire and Ted Wildy's UK Marriage Witness Indexes. The Yorkshire Archaeological Society has published a number of transcripts of parish registers on the internet, and their web site also includes a list of the scripts for sale on microfiche. The only other searchable data provided is the Northowram Register of Non-Conformists from 1644 to 1752.
Civil Registration gives you access to lists of the Civil Registration Districts for all the three Ridings, plus an alphabetical index of place names, showing the county and district in which they were located in during the period between 1837 and 1930.
Description and Travel provides you with information about businesses and services in Yorkshire today.
Gazetteers offers descriptions of places listed in Thomas Langdale's Topographical Dictionary of Yorkshire, published in 1822, with a general overview of the region during the 19th century. Even the small village where I live has an entry, although the description is mainly concerned with the church.
Genealogy is an interesting section for all Yorkshire researchers, and has links to the surname interest lists for the county, where you can post the names you are researching.
The Genealogy section also includes "Look up Exchanges" for the three Ridings, in which people with access to particular records will search them to find information for others. This section also refers you to other web pages containing information about genealogy and history in Yorkshire. You will also find details about the local newsgroups and mailing lists, of which there are two for Yorkshire: YORKSGEN and WEST-RIDING. YORKSGEN is dedicted to genealogy and history in Yorkshire, while, as its name suggests, WEST-RIDING, concentrates solely on the West Riding.
History offers extracts form various old books, including a history of Wakefield and its battles by George H. Crowther (1886).
Beryl Thompson has been busy with a scanner and her copy of Thomas Baines's Yorkshire Past and Present, which includes An Account of the Woollen Trade of Yorkshire. She has also provided a copy of J. Horsfall Turner's Bingley, Its History and Scenery.
Land and Property features information from the Harvard Law School Library of Medieval and Early Modern Deeds, giving descriptions and summaries of around 50 Yorkshire deeds. The page contains a link to `Religious Houses', featuring documents for Kirkstall Abbey and Watton Priory.
Maps offers you the chance to download a very detailed map of Yorkshire prepared by Colin Hinson. Based on the modern road atlas, Colin's map has included all the parishes and their names, and identifies individual villages in the parish with the same coloured dot. The map is in GIF format which can be viewed with a browser, although it is probably better to use a graphics program if you have one, as you can reproduce the areas in which you are interested.
Military Records has a link to the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour, listing UK civilians killed by enemy action in WWII; it's produced by the Imperial War Graves Commission. If you had an army officer in the family you may find them listed in the commissions lists for the North York Militia or the 4th Battalion (Alexandra, Princess of Wales' Own) Yorkshire Regiment, from 1758 to 1907. Recipients of the Victoria Cross in the Northeast of England are also listed.
Societies lists the 14 family history societies in Yorkshire, each covering their own area of the county. You can find all the addresses here, and some have their own web sites containing further details about meetings and publications.
Towns and Parishes features a list of over 4,000 Yorkshire place names, and shows in which of the Ridings they can be found. It also contains links to 183 East Riding, 180 North Riding and 200 West Riding parishes. These parish pages contain descriptions of the towns, villages or hamlets within each parish, taken from Baines's Directory of the County of York (1823) and the Yorkshire Topographical Dictionary. Not many of the parish pages have additional links at present, but you can find occasional snippets of information or photographs on some of them.
GENUKI is a marvellous resource which, like good wine, continues to improve with age. There is no doubt that it is of considerable value to researchers both at home and abroad, and that it should be supported by everyone researching British ancestors. If you have a web site, add GENUKI to your links, and if you have produced any computerised indexes or transcripts, let the people who maintain the GENUKI website know -- a little knowledge can go a long way.