Frank Rogers – Volunteering with FreeREG

Free UK Genealogy couldn’t have made over 400 Million records available without our wonderful volunteers who give their time and energy so generously to make our websites what they are. 

Here, volunteer transcriber Frank Rogers tells us about his experiences volunteering with FreeREG. 

Frank Rogers, FreeREG volunteer

Frank Rogers (c)

Original Parish Registers are difficult and time consuming for genealogists to access in their search for items of interest to them. FreeREG has been set up to address this problem by transcribing them onto a web site to allow free access to the data and provide search facilities.

Volunteers are required to do this transcribing from images of the parish register for Baptisms, Marriages and Burials. The original registers are usually held in an Archive centre, with only the current registers in the Parish. 

These images are made available to transcribers to work on in their home, so they can do this in their own time. Most use a special free program to enter the data on their computer. Email is used to transfer the images and data files, and communicate with their coordinator and other transcribers, who may be anywhere in the world.

Over 40 million register entries have already been transcribed, but there is still plenty to do. We welcome new volunteers who can help us with both transcribing, and sourcing more records to transcribe.

There are interesting challenges, like trying to decipher the poor handwriting of some priests, and learning the meaning of Latin words used at a time when this was still used in documents. Most registers include details of Parish or Abode of the individuals, and this provides interest, particularly when the place mentioned is known to the transcriber. Sometimes the place name mentioned is no longer in use. For example, I came across several references to a farm in the parish next to my home village, and even asking locals who might know has not yet produced an answer as to where it was. On other occasions there are records of a larger number of deaths than usual, particularly of children or a whole family, and one asks themselves “Why?”. Sometimes the text ‘smallpox’ or similar is added to the entry as an explanation. The deaths of a mother and child at about the same time also highlights another tragedy more common in years gone by. One also learns about the Gregorian calendar in use before 1752, the change in the date of New Year’s Day, and the missing 25 days that year!

There are email groups for transcribers to communicate with each other. These are often used to ask other transcribers for their opinion on difficult register entries. Help and support is also readily available on the Members section of the FreeREG web site, and from your coordinator.

I also convert donated registers already in computer readable format to FreeREG format.

To do this I use the facilities in Microsoft Office Excel to write what they call Macros to process the information as required, making corrections as necessary. The Macros are written in the Visual Basic programming language which enables me effectively to write a program which can do virtually anything with the data.

Over 3 weeks in May I was able to add over 74,000 records to FreeREG from 8 parishes in Kent and I am now working on another batch of donated registers that will add about another 15,000 records.

As a retired computer programmer this is a task I enjoy, and I hope to help other counties that may need this conversion doing.