FreeReg genealogy website - find your ancestors for free

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24 May 2017
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Sandra Adams-West talks about her experience of volunteering with FreeReg, one of the UK's most popular genealogy websites, which offers visitors the chance to trace their family tree free of charge.

Sandra Adams-West talks about her experience of volunteering with FreeReg, one of the UK's most popular genealogy websites, which offers visitors the chance to trace their family tree free of charge.

Researching your family tree can be a journey fraught with highs and lows; from the exhilaration of finding that one elusive relative to hitting a proverbial brick wall. You might hit a mother lode of data; or you might find yourself chasing a clue that leads to a dead end.

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What has made the task easier is the internet; and the right tools to search. That is where FreeREG and her sister sites, FreeCEN and FreeBMD come into focus. FreeREG, like her sister sites, was created with the view to provide researchers with a site that does not charge the user to view extracts from parish and non-conformist baptism, marriage and burial data, as well as other relevant sources in the United Kingdom.

I came to FreeREG by chance. I had moved to the UK  from the USA in 1997, and after a few years of immersing myself in all things Welsh and British, I decided to go back to school and get a degree in History. My dissertation focused on the village I was living in at the time, and I used the social aspects of the village from 1830-1900 as my base. An integral part of this was using parish and chapel records, and that took weeks of recording the data by hand.

I was trawling the internet looking for more source data when I came across FreeREG. I thought this was a fantastic site, but it had ZERO data for Wales. I sent an email to the site admin and asked if the records I had collected could be used. I was told that as there was no one working on Wales, the data could not be used. So I offered my services, and was given a quick lesson in coding, and let loose.

I called it baptism by fire, but it was really a labour of love for Wales, and for FreeREG. I had nothing but my tiny bit of data to offer those searching for their lineage, but I was to meet some wonderful people along the way.

A very kindly lady, Miss Catherine Thomas, saw what I was doing and offered me her library of records, which she had hand copied and then typed on a typewriter. This represented almost 30 years of her diligent work, and covered just over 200 pages with the data for about 45 chapels in Wales.

She wanted her work to be accessible to others, without anyone having to pay a penny to see it. She asked me to take on that task, and trusted me to ensure that it was accomplished. I am very proud and privileged to say that has been done, and that Miss Catherine Thomas is, and will continue to be an inspiration for me, and I hope others who are touched by her story.

FreeREG of course is not only about Wales, but the whole of the UK. For example, the county of Norfolk in England has more than one million records on its own. There are currently more than 38 million records available on the website.

We have around 1,250 active volunteers, who are spread across the globe. Most volunteers transcribe records for us, but others work in other capacities, such as doing technical maintenance or programming and monitoring our social media pages. It is this group of volunteers who allow us to offer the public not only data, but their knowledge and expertise.

I would urge anyone who is researching to visit us and check out what is available. There you will find the website packed with tips and hints on conducting searches and how to use the data you find, or to get you pointed in the right direction. You will also find information on becoming a volunteer transcriber and help us continue to in our efforts to help researchers all over the world.

I hope that FreeREG will help contribute a leaf or two on your family tree!

Sandra Adams-West is communications team coordinator and coordinator for Wales at FreeREG.