Archive for the ‘ Behind the scenes at findmypast.co.uk ’ Category
On Saturday 28 August the Battle of Britain commemorative flight took place and I was lucky enough to be on board.
The flight was organised by the Battle of Britain Historical Society to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle this year and was sponsored by findmypast.co.uk, along with the John Lewis Partnership and Serco.
Fourteen Battle of Britain veterans attended, all of whom are now in their 80s and 90s. There were also 15 war widows on board and members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force who also played an important role in the Battle of Britain.
Here’s Battle of Britain veteran William Walker with findmypast’s marketing manager Debra Chatfield:
The specially chartered British Airways flight took off from Heathrow Terminal Five. We flew over the areas in which the RAF was engaged in combat with the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. The plane flew over the coast of Southern England and the English Channel.
Two surviving fighter planes – a Spitfire and a Hurricane – joined the flight for part of the way. The pilots had flown these aircrafts during the Battle of Britain. Here you can see the Spitfire and Hurricane alongside our plane:
My colleagues Debra Chatfield (findmypast’s marketing manager) and Paul Yates (head of findmypast) were also on board the flight, as well as our two lucky competition winners Sally Hayward and her guest Stuart.
There were a few other notable figures on board the flight: defence minister Dr Liam Fox, South African High Commissioner Dr Zola Skweyiya, Belgian Diplomatic Counsellor Pascal Gregoire, actor Edward Fox and Battle of Britain Historical Society supporter Bamber Gascoigne.
We took this photo of Edward Fox speaking at the champagne reception:
It was a fascinating and memorable day and a fitting tribute to the bravery of the men who fought for our country.
See more photos of the flight on our Facebook page.
I joined findmypast.co.uk at the start of the year and walked straight into my baptism of fire: reindexing the birth, marriage and death records.
As head of the data team, I am responsible for the quality of the data we receive from two separate transcription companies. I have to ensure that they meet their guarantees of quality so that everything falls into place in time for the launch.
We received the files in quarterly batches, usually with one file per quarter – for the births alone this amounted to more than 600 files and 113 million records. The challenges came in verifying that we were not missing any records and ensuring that all of the 800,000 images were in place and of high enough quality and that we could identify and standardise any fields that had been transcribed in error.
We shared knowledge with the transcription companies, provided them with lookup tables for valid districts, common first and last names and provided regular feedback so they could validate their transcriptions before delivering them to us. This ensured that we were as close as possible to our desired accuracy levels before we handled the data ourselves.
That said, there was still plenty of work to be done. By programmatically checking the files we received for gaps and inconsistencies, e.g., comparing the representation of first letters of surname across quarters, we were able to identify and plug plenty of gaps well before the project neared completion.
One of the most time consuming parts of the births project was cleaning up the registration districts from their incorrectly transcribed values into something that could be used in a search. Our list of invalid districts included over 60,000 incorrect values which all had to be standardised. My colleague Francesca Aiyeola and I spent many hours trying to work out if that ‘B’ should have been an ‘R’ or an ‘H’ and acquired a fine appreciation for the transcribers’ skills and patience in the process!
We hope that you enjoy the birth records and that you’re looking forward to the fully indexed marriages and deaths, coming soon.
If you’ve been tuning into programmes like Victorian Farm or Secrets of World War II on the Yesterday channel recently, you might have caught findmypast.co.uk’s new TV sponsorship ads. This is our very first foray into the world of TV advertising, and as marketing manager for findmypast.co.uk, I was lucky enough to be there at the filming.
This was my first experience of working on a TV campaign and I was surprised by just how many people were involved in bringing our ads to life. As well as the five actors who you see on screen, there were lighting crew, cameraman, runners, sound man, make-up artist, wardrobe mistress, producer, production manager and assistants, props team, assistant director, scriptwriter and creative team – around 30 people in total – who all had to squash into a tiny nursery to film the “But I can’t be your great-grandmother” ad.
Of course there was our brilliant director Alan Grint, of Lark Rise to Candleford, Catherine Cookson mini series and Midsomer Murders fame. He ensured that we had no dramas of our own, with filming running perfectly to schedule (which apparently never happens) and all taking place on one day at Cragside House, a stunning National Trust property in Rothbury. A day later we found out that gunman Raoul Moat had been on the loose in the village all the time we were filming! Fortunately for us the only problems we encountered were the house alarm going off whenever a smoke machine was used to create the atmospheric haze in the ad set in the kitchen and the occasional RAF jet flying low overhead between takes.
Cragside House was the home of Lord Armstrong, a Victorian inventor, and it is filled with all sorts of his gadgets, such as a forerunner of the soda stream, with a rather dauntingly oversized gas cylinder attached. This was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity, so our production team had to disguise some of the electric light fittings to make them look like gaslight and more in keeping with the period. The staff at Cragside House were incredibly patient with us and the whole crew really worked well together – we all had a fantastic day.
Hello from the head of findmypast.co.uk
I’m Paul, head of findmypast.co.uk, and welcome to the first in a series of blogs I’ll be writing. I wanted to get in touch to talk about what we’ve achieved over the last year and let you know what’s in the pipeline for the future.
It has been a very busy and rewarding year at findmypast.co.uk. Just over a year ago we added the eagerly anticipated 1911 census for England and Wales to the site. We also completed the remaining censuses to be able to proudly offer you the only complete England and Wales census collection anywhere online. We’ve also added hundreds of thousands of parish records to the site to make ours the largest online collection of parish records in partnership with the Federation of Family History Societies.
More recently we’ve launched our fully indexed birth records that cover the period from 1837 to 2006. There are over 100 million individual records. We’re very excited about these records and judging from the fantastic feedback we’ve received so far, you share our enthusiasm about the value of these records to family historians.
All of these projects were a key part of our continued commitment to you to:
- Deliver rich family history records to connect you to your past
- Provide a complete census collection for England and Wales 1841 to 1911
- Ensure our records are as easy as possible to search
This makes it the perfect time to introduce this new series of blogs which will share knowledge with our customers and the wider family history community. You’ll be hearing from me and other members of the findmypast.co.uk team on a regular basis about a wide range of topics, from records and data to products and marketing. The findmypast.co.uk team will keep you informed with new developments at findmypast.co.uk and give you a backstage pass into life behind the scenes at findmypast.co.uk
Of course we really want to hear your views and thoughts so you can help to shape the service we offer you. Please feel free to comment on any of our blog posts – you can do so underneath each post.
The next year is going to be even more exciting than the last one. We’ve got some fantastic new records which we’ll publish exclusively on findmypast.co.uk, including the fully indexed marriages and death records which will complete our BMD collection. Along with new search features and functionality, I hope this will make our site even more useful and engaging for you.
I hope you enjoy the ride as it promises to be a very exciting and rewarding journey on findmypast.co.uk