Family History can be a rewarding hobby

Family History can be a rewarding hobby

Becoming involved in a volunteer project can not only help to share genealogical information but can be very rewarding

Nick Thorne, Writer at TheGenealogist

Nick Thorne

Writer at TheGenealogist

If you enjoy family history as a pastime then you may like to learn that helping transcribe as a hobby can help pay for books, software and subscriptions.

Projects such as those at UKIndexer offer a variety of ways to help your fellow genealogists through being able to search the data that you have indexed or photographed. Volunteers at the UKIndexer are rewarded for their time by gaining credits.

The volunteers valuable input helps to ensure that it is the highest quality information that is published online for family history researchers to search and use. As well as benefiting researchers, who may discover a long lost ancestor as a result of your contribution.

Participants who sign up to the scheme can chose to transcribe historical records or photograph headstones. The credits they gain are then available to be spent on genealogy products at S&N Genealogy supplies, or towards an online subscription to TheGenealogist. If this idea appeals to you then you can be based anywhere that you like for carrying out the indexing projects. Transcribers will have access to a special online tool to use that enables them to transcribe from wherever they are. The projects currently available allow volunteers to choose from photographing and transcribing headstones, transcribing poll books and various other historic documents.


One of the projects at UKIndexer that will be of interest for those people who like to get out and about to photograph in the fresh air, is the recording of headstone images. For folk who enjoy transcribing historical details from their computers at home there is the chance to index the information contained on photos of headstones. Of course you may wish to do both of the stages, or just the one, that’s your choice when you sign up.

One thing I particularly enjoy in photographing headstones is the peaceful atmosphere of the church and churchyard surroundings. Often people stop to chat, intrigued at what I am doing and then becoming quite enthusiastic when I explain. I thoroughly enjoy photographing the headstones, it’s almost bringing people back to life again!

Lyn, a volunteer from Wiltshire, shares her experience of the project:

Once you have signed up, and checked that your local cemetery is not being worked on by another volunteer, then all you would need to do is register your intention to visit the graveyard with your camera and begin photographing the headstones. You can also transcribe the images as well if you wish. This headstone project is designed to preserve these fragile records that by their nature are subject to loss over time from weathering and other damage. Some burial grounds are even being closed and cleared to be redeveloped, so making it even more necessary that they are recorded before they are lost altogether. The resulting photographs and transcription records make up an important set that is made available on TheGenealogist. With it family history researchers are able to see the inscriptions on an ancestor’s grave even when it’s not possible to visit the graveyards themselves.

The wording, carved into the stone, can very often be quite revealing. This is especially so when the inscription provides some extra information on the deceased person that is not available elsewhere. Some memorials may divulge intriguing details of an ancestor’s life or disclose the town where they had originally come from. Other headstones can give the names and dates of members of the family that are buried overseas and yet are commemorated on a close relative’s grave at home.

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Getting involved in the UKIndexer headstone project can give you a great sense of helping your fellow family historians by sharing information that may otherwise remained hidden in a churchyard. It’s also a wonderfully peaceful and rewarding way to spend your time.

Nicki Dray, Manager at UKIndexer

Historical Documents

Various documents can give clues about our ancestors lives, these include residential directories and professional directories. These appear on the site from time to time.

Another set of records that UKIndexer is offering to its volunteers to transcribe are a number of Poll Books. These historic documents can record how ancestors’ voted. While today we would be mortified if someone was to publish which candidate we had voted for, in the past there was no secret ballot and so the publication of Poll Books were quite normal. These volumes are a fascinating resource that give researchers valuable information such as names, addresses, occupations as well as sometimes revealing how people voted in the election. Some of the Poll Books available pre-date the census records and go back as far as the 1700s, making them an especially useful resource for family historians.

The text of a Poll Book is usually printed and the contents are laid out in columns which means it is not very arduous to transcribe. Volunteers will need, however, to watch out for the similarity between f and s in the old typeface used in the books, but otherwise there is little that should cause you difficulty.

Other documents may help for ancestors who had changed their names for one reason or another. A name change could have been done so as to anglicise a foreign surname and make it seem more British. Another reason is to make the spelling of an unusual name easier for people to understand and write down. In some cases, in order for an ancestor to inherit some land or a title from another branch of the family, a surname may have to be changed to that of the person that has died and is bequeathing their estate to someone else. This situation can happen when one familial line has died out and so the inheritance passes to another branch of the family that goes by a different surname.

The Index to Changes of Name for UK and Ireland 1760-1901 consists of information from a number of sources such as Private Acts of Parliament, Royal Licences published in the London and Dublin Gazettes, notices of changes of name published in The Times after 1861 with a few notices from other newspapers, the registers of the Lord Lyon [King of Arms] where Scottish changes of name were commonly recorded, records in the office of the Ulster King at Arms and some other private information sources. A volunteer transcriber will find that the text is all printed with various details per entry to index.

If you would like to help complete these various projects, and benefit from earning credits that are then available to be spend on genealogy products at S&N Genealogy Supplies or towards an online subscription to TheGenealogist, then take a look at the website find out more.

About the author:

Nicki Dray runs the volunteer projects at UKIndexer. To join one of the rewarding programmes that she coordinates for family historians see:

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