FreeCEN Scotland

Putting 19th century Scottish census transcriptions online
Scottish thistle FreeCEN logo

Meet the Current Team

There are fifteen Coordinators currently working on the FreeCEN Scotland project. They have each been invited to write a few words as to how they first became interested in family history, their role in the project, how and when they came to be involved, and what drives them to continue with the project.

Jim Baird

Coordinator for Argyllshire and Renfrewshire

Fiona Downie:

Coordinator for Ross & Cromarty

Grant Forsyth:

Coordinator for Sutherland

Janis Hall:

Coordinator for Roxburghshire

Paul Hercus:

Coordinator for Orkney and Shetland

Like many of the FreeCEN volunteers, I started from an interest in family history. I found that my great great grandparents were from Orkney but that the County was not online and needed a Coordinator. I volunteered a little selfishly, as that way I got an early look at the records.

I find the original handwritten census records fascinating but at times frustratingly hard to decipher. Also I get quite annoyed with those long-gone enumerators who didn’t follow their instructions and omitted some of the data, or those who couldn’t spell (and I’m not allowed to correct them!).

Michelle Jeffery:

Coordinator for Aberdeenshire and Nairnshire

Kathy Litwin:

Coordinator for Kirkcudbrightshire

Kenny Mair:

Coordinator for Kirkcudbrightshire

Betty Martin:

Coordinator for Caithness

Bill McKinlay:

Coordinator for Ayrshire and Bute

My involvement with FreeCEN, like a number of others, started with my own search for my family roots, many of whom came from Buteshire and other Scottish counties.

I soon discovered when working on the censuses that you could get a real sense of the societies that our forebears came from, their neighbours and neighbourhoods, range of occupations, housing conditions, migration patterns, education levels, family sizes etc. are all there to be studied. I have always had an interest in history and, for me anyway, the censuses have helped me to put flesh on the bones of those who have gone before and gain an appreciation of them and their lives even if it is only a snapshot in time.

Although the counties of Bute and Ayr, that I am coordinator for, are currently on hold, I have been very enthusiastic about the project for the last 10 years. The high standards set and maintained for the production and presentation of a quality product by everyone involved is something that I am delighted and proud to be associated with.

Rena Mitchell:

Scotland Coordinator; also Kincardineshire and Wigtownshire

I first encountered FreeCEN in 2005 when I found some ancestors in a Lanarkshire parish which had been put online at the website. Fired by enthusiasm, and by the concept of a census website free for all to use, I volunteered to transcribe for Lanarkshire and for Kincardineshire, my husband’s family stamping ground. I loved the work and branched into checking as soon as I could. Later when the coordinator’s post for Kincardineshire became vacant, I was frustrated by the length of time it was taking to see the parishes I needed online. A rash email to Michelle Jeffrey led to me becoming county coordinator for Kincardineshire!

On the side I did work for other counties and, when Ron Tapp retired, I took over Wigtownshire — a second rash email!

Now — the result of a third rash email — I work with David Robertson to coordinate FreeCEN Scotland. I enjoy the project thoroughly, not least for the friends and contacts I have made around the world. The work we volunteers do for FreeCEN has enriched family tree research for a generation. It has also enriched my retirement beyond my expectations, even if I am still rubbish about anything to do with websites!

David Robertson:

Scotland Coordinator; also Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire

Tracing my own family tree led me to enquire in 2007 why no Clackmannanshire records had been put on the FreeCEN database. Persuasively, the then Scotland Coordinator, Michelle Jeffery, suggested that the only way to resolve this was for me to taken on the vacant role of Coordinator for “The Wee County”. Working with our webmaster, Alison O’Neill, to create a new website for the County led to a wider interest in the project. At the beginning of 2011, I joined forces with Rena Mitchell to take on the Scotland Coordinator role, and I now represent Scotland on the FreeCEN Executive.

I believe passionately that family history researchers should have free online access to the main public records of genealogical interest, and that volunteer projects which can help to bring this about should be encouraged in every way.

Margaret Singleton:

Coordinator for Lanarkshire

I first became interested in Family History about 30 years ago but I gave up when I found so many of my ancestors came from Ireland. In the late 1990s my interest was rekindled with the birth of my first grandchild and I found it was so much easier then with the availability of the Internet.

I stumbled across the FreeCEN website in 2002 but the area I was interested in, Glasgow, did not have a coordinator and therefore no records online so I volunteered for that. Originally, Lanarkshire outside Glasgow had a separate coordinator, but when Lesley Bousbaine stepped down in 2008 I took on that as well. It’s been a long slow haul as it’s such a big area and there is still much to do. [Lanarkshire 1841 is very nearly complete with over four hundred thousand records online and there are approaching three hundred thousand records online for 1851 — AO]

Last year I completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies as a distance student at Strathclyde University. Unlike others on the course I have no intention of using this to generate income as I still give my help freely to anyone who needs help in tracing their ancestors. I live in Leeds but also have a property in Glasgow so return often to visit the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and Scotlands People in Edinburgh.

Susan Snowdon:

Coordinator for Banffshire and Inverness-shire

Nicky Young:

Coordinator for Dumbartonshire, Fife, Perthshire and Stirlingshire

I started transcribing for Janis Hall in 2003, for Roxburghshire. As I had lived in St Boswells before we migrated and my husband’s family were from around there, I was excited to be doing this and with the hope it would be all online for folks to use free of charge. We have since found out it was Selkirshire and Berwickshire that my husband’s family came from!

Once I got to do the checking phase, I helped Margaret Singleton with some bits of Lanarkshire and still do. No one at that time was doing the area I really was interested in, Peeblesshire. So when an opportunity came up to become coordinator for Peeblesshire, I seized it. We were lucky to be able to transcribe all the census years from 1841 to 1871.

I then got talked into coordinating Stirling, and later, Dunbartonshire. At present I am coordinating Fifeshire and Perthshire. I have to say I would never have come so far with this if I had not had a group of wonderful volunteers, some of whom stayed with me from Stirling onwards. This includes Alison who does the web pages.

Although I have lived in Sunbury, Victoria in Australia for nearly 40 years, I am still a Scot at heart, with a broad borders’ accent. Born in Drem, East Lothian, I spent the first 12 years of my life in Edinburgh. Then we moved to a village called Eddleston, Peeblesshire where my father was born and bred.

I have been interested in genealogy for many years, and am lucky that an Aunt started this. A branch of the family migrated to the USA and she kept in touch with them after some of them made a trip to their homeland in the 1960s. Now we have quite a well documented family of them. Another branch of the family, the Tweedies, also migrated to the US.

I am lucky with some of my research names of Ketchin, Tweedie and Pretswell, as they are not such common surnames. Then again, like everyone else, I also have the very common names of Wilson and Thomson, to name but a couple.

I love helping with the project and have met some very nice people online.

And not forgetting our webmaster,

Alison O’Neill:

My interest in family history began with my Dad showing me a scruffy and hard-to-follow hand-written tree compiled by his uncle Robert. Every reference to Ireland grabbed my attention — I had to find out more! I followed up on Robert’s research and started on my Mum’s side of the tree. I was soon on the internet, eager to find out what was on offer.

I first came across the FreeCEN project in 2006. I transcribed a few Scottish and English pieces, becoming increasingly fascinated with the broader perspective gained by transcribing a whole census piece.

After learning how to create a website, initially just to share my genealogical findings with my wider family, I then volunteered to help a couple of Scotland county coordinators set up and maintain their own websites, thinking that such a useful project should have the publicity it deserves. Most of my FreeCEN volunteering is now taken up with developing and updating websites, but I still enjoy transcribing when I have the time.