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21 January 2019

Find your Fenland ancestors as they were recorded down the centuries

By Julie Williams

Find your Fenland ancestors as they were recorded down the centuries

Descendants worldwide can now trace their Fenland ancestors' lives back to the 16th century online through the actual handwritten church registers which recorded them, thanks to a groundbreaking project.

Cambridgeshire Family History Society (CFHS) has teamed up with the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, where the registers of 32 parishes are lodged for safe-keeping, to get them scanned and digitised for all the world to see.

Classical history graduate Tristan Goodfellow, from Murrow, has been carrying out the painstaking work in the museum archives since last May, funded by the CFHS.

In addition the CFHS, which will be paid by the public for each image of a page bearing specific names, has pledged through the museum's re-founders scheme to contribute a substantial sum over five years to its everyday running costs.

Tristan said: “This project will save the church registers from damage through over-much handling.

“A lot of the handwriting is old-fashioned or shaky and some of the records are in Latin, from the days when what the parish priest wrote could be the only record made of a person's existence.

“But they recorded the names and relationships of local people through christenings, marriages and funerals. They're fascinating to historians but also and especially to people whose families came from the Fens.”

So far, Tristan has fully or partially scanned and uploaded 29,000 register pages from Friday Bridge, Gorefield, Guyhirn, Marshland, Murrow, Newton, Outwell, Parson Drove, Southea, Terrington St Clement, Tydd St Giles, Upwell and Wisbech St Peter. There are roughly 21,000 more to go.

He sends the pictures he has taken once he has uploaded each parish's registers to the site where so far the names of 70,239 individuals have been matched with transcriptions made by the family history society's volunteers.

Cambridgeshire Family History Society chairman David Copsey said: “We are excited about our partnership in this venture with Wisbech and Fenland Museum – it means for the first time we can offer people an online view of the actual pages their ancestors' lives were recorded in. There are no nationally kept records before 1837 – so it really is a first.”

The scanning machine Tristan uses is on loan from Cambridgeshire archives, which are being relocated from Cambridge to Ely.

The Society is careful to ensure this that information about living people is not made available.

* Find more details about the project and how you can access the parish register records of your family if they're held at Wisbech and Fenland Museum on the Cambridgeshire Family History website here  Ancestor Finder

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