Christine Worthington | Jul 2, 2021, 11:31 AM

Our Volunteers: Pedigree Rolls Project

Amongst the Society of Genealogists' many treasures, its extraordinary collection of rolled pedigree charts is the focus of a unique digitisation and home indexing project.

Project creator Alan Pursell recently said of the project:

'The Society has around 10,000 handwritten family trees in a collection we call the pedigree rolls. These have been collected by the Society over the last 100 years. Some are typical small trees, while others are huge, heavily researched trees with thousands of names. They currently live in ‘Store A’ behind the desk in the Lower Library and take up more than 100sqm of shelf space.'

The indexing is only one component of the project, which also encompasses the purchase of specialist scanning equipment, reconciliation of the rolls to existing records, scanning of the entire collection (including many large and fragile rolls) and ultimately the movement of the physical collection to secure offsite storage. The 200+ images that had been scanned prior to the lockdown are in circulation to indexers using Dropbox under the administration of Di Swinfield, who has been providing support to indexers individually and via the volunteer forum.

'On completion', Alan says, 'we will have made a key set of information available to members, we will have released a substantial amount of space at the Society and unlocked a valuable source of unique genealogical data.'

One of the challenges with this type of indexing relates to the fact that the Pedigree Rolls themselves are so varied. Often having been acquired as part of a larger personal research collections, some of them appear more or less 'finished' and decoratively scribed, whereas others are more representative of the work in progress - dotted lines, research notes, sometimes a number of smaller trees that may or may not fit neatly together. Abbreviations and Latin terms are also in use as space savers in the chart format.

Like our Great Card Indexers, Pedigree Rolls indexers are drawing together information linking people, places and dates - but they have the added dimension of documenting relationships.

These people are inputting their information into their home family history software and returning gedcom files that will eventually be accessed via tree viewing software on the Society's website.

Parts of the Pedigree Abdy001

Our pedigree rolls indexers are transported back to the time before researchers were using software, and the pedigrees were used not just to document family information but also to organise the researcher's thoughts. These indexers necessarily have to be truer to the original than the GCI indexers, but they have to make decisions about how to record the essential information that will enable researchers to find their families and the tree images they are interested in.

Here are a couple of exmples from the collection. Some have found interesting ways to display their information using colour to distinguish the different lines and branches.

Some have found interesting ways to display their information using colour to distinguish the different lines and branches.

Others have been meticulously hand drawn and are works of art.

Our home projects are giving volunteers opportunities to intimately interact with our collections during this time, and they are finding interesting things.

Di says ‘Our volunteers have already found evidence of fascinating characters and some rather barbed comments within the trees. On one pedigree these include an ‘Extravagant Dandy’ who died a bankrupt and his brother who was described as a ‘Ne’er do well’.’

At June 2021 34% 6,700 images have been produced and our indexers have produced 3,023 gedcom files containing 144,400 names. Twenty-seven volunteers are currently working on this project.

They use our volunteer forum to post queries and assist each other with interpreting data. A quarterly Zoom catchup keeps indexers up to date with the progress of the project and enables them to discuss indexing policy.

Part of the pedigree Ade013

We're very grateful for the work of this community and we will be seeing the results of their work appear online soon - look out for news of this!

Notes and comments

Please contact Emma Jolly for more information about this article

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