Family Tree Magazine - June 1995
United Kingdom & Ireland
Genealogical Information Service
Malcolm Austen, Brian Randell, Alan Stanier, Phil Stringer, John Woodgate
The use of modern computer networking, and in particular the Internet, by genealogists and family historians in order to communicate with each other and to access information, was described by Rob Wilson in the October 1994 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Since this article was published the Internet and facilities on it of relevance to genealogy have continued to grow rapidly. One development that should be of particular interest to readers of this magazine is the planned setting up of a new Usenet newsgroup, soc.genealogy.uk+ireland, which as its name suggests is intended for discussions relating to genealogy in the British Isles.
The Usenet soc.genealogy newsgroups were not in fact covered in the October 1994 paper, which instead concentrated mainly on the ROOTS-L mailing list. These newsgroups have recently been re-organized, and currently comprise
- soc.genealogy.misc - for any genealogy-related posting which is not appropriate for one of the other soc.genealogy groups
- soc.genealogy.computing - for discussion of computer-based genealogical tools/resources of any type
- soc.genealogy.methods - for the discussion of genealogical (but non-computing) resources and methods, and for the analysis of particular research problems
- soc.genealogy.surnames - for queries about specific relatives or ancestors
- soc.genealogy.french - for exchanging information about ancestors who spoke French, had French names, or lived in places inhabited by French speakers or where records were kept in French
- soc.genealogy.german - for exchanging information about peoplewho are or once thought of themselves as being of German ethnic stock; who lived or may have lived in Germany or one of the old German states - and their descendants
- soc.genealogy.jewish - provides all researchers of Jewish lines a means of networking with others on areas of particular interest to Jewish researchers
The soc.genealogy.uk+ireland newsgroup will, like the other soc.genealogy newsgroups, be freely available to anyone who has access to the Internet, either direct or via any of the commercial services such as CompuServe that now provide some form of connection to the Internet. In addition, it is planned to set up a computer mailing list, that will carry exactly the same messages as soc.genealogy.uk+ireland, in order to serve the needs of users whose computer communication facilities are limited to electronic mail to and from the Internet world.
In preparation for the launch of soc.genealogy.uk+ireland a group of us in various parts of the British Isles (who, incidentally, have yet to meet each other face to face) have been working to make available what we hope will soon become a large amount of information of relevance to British and Irish genealogy on what is called the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web (or WWW as it is often known) is an Internet-based service which enables documents and databases held on computers all round the world to be linked together seamlessly into what appears to users to be a single large 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.
The present WWW system with its very user-friendly software is little over two years old, but already there are many thousands of computers connected to it. Between them these computers contain a huge amount of information, much of which was collected before the WWW system was even thought of. 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.
The UK&I Genealogy Information Service that we have started creating already involves computers in Belfast, Colchester, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford, and provides links to many others. However from the users' point of view this fact is irrelevant. Rather, users find that the UK&I information service provides them with an ever-growing body of information that is organized in much the same way that the LDS Family History Library and its Catalogue are organized. Thus information is associated with an appropriate one of four "locality levels". The first level corresponds to the British Isles as a whole. At the second level one finds England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles. The third level corresponds to individual counties, the fourth to towns or parishes. The LDS Family History Library's subject categories are then used at each of these levels. Some examples of categories of information that already exist in the UK&I information service are:
British Isles/Emigration and Immigration
British Isles/England/Civil Registration
At present most effort has gone into the provision of information for the higher level categories. For example, in British Isles/Archives and Libraries/Public Record Office users will find the complete text of more than thirty PRO Information Leaflets, while British Isles/Archives and Libraries/LDS Family History Centres provides, amongst other information, a complete address list for all the LDS Family History Centres in the British Isles. Each of the county pages provides access to the relevant section of the Marriage Witness Index that has been assembled by Ted Wildy of New Zealand, and of the 2% Sample of 1851 Census Data. (This latter provides a full transcription of 2% of the 1851 Census Enumerators Books, some 744 books in all.)
What might be termed the "first page", or "front door", of the UK&I service 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.)
To make use of this new service it is of course necessary to have access to the Internet, and to have appropriate software in the form of a program called a "Web Browser" such as Netscape or Mosaic. Such software is available free for IBM-compatible PCs, Apple Macintoshes, and UNIX systems. Internet access typically involves the use of a modem (costing #100-#200), so as to use the telephone to connect to one of the rapidly growing number of Internet Access Providers, such as Demon or Cityscape - who typically charge a flat fee of about #10 per month for their service, and can provide all the necessary software. (CompuServe have announced their intention of providing access to the World Wide Web, but at time of writing this service was not yet available.)
Details of how to obtain Internet access were in fact described in Rob Wilson's article in the October 1994 issue. The one further piece of information we need to provide would-be users who have obtained means of accessing WWW is in fact the WWW address of the new information service - this is:
However, if anyone wishes first to make enquiries via email, the address that they should send their email to (that of Phil Stringer, who is in overall charge of the UK&I information service) is as follows:
One final comment - we of course welcome the involvement of other people and organizations who have computer-based genealogical information that they are willing to make available to the public via WWW, since it is only by such involvement that the UK&I service will grow to achieve its full potential. Indeed, we hope before long to devolve the task of maintaining information about many of the counties and topics to people and organizations with more interest in, and knowledge of, the particular area or topic than any of the present authors possess. (Ideally such information would be made available as part of the UK&I service simply through a WWW/Internet link to the computer on which the information is normally kept.)
However in the mean time we would, for example, be happy to augment the address details we already provide on many family history societies with further information about their activities, the publications they have for sale, and even membership forms. Similarly, we would welcome information about upcoming (non-commercial) events. However, we would much prefer it if such information could be provided to us in machine-readable form on floppy disk or sent via email.
Fig. 1: The Front Page
Fig. 2: The start of the UK & Ireland Page
Fig. 3: Part of the PRO Leaflets Page