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UK Government Digitization Program Suffers Indefinite Delay


Perhaps the biggest trend in genealogy over the last decade has been governments putting online census records as well as vital birth, death and marriage records. These official government web sites have been a treasure trove for genealogists searching for their ancestors. It is therefore greatly disappointing to learn that the UK’s flagship family records program to digitize 250 million records from 1837 to the present has gone horribly off track.

As reported in ComputerActive, only 130 million records have been digitized and plans for the remainder of the records have been put on indefinite hold. Compounding the problem is the fact the UK government shut down the Family Records Centre in London containing the paper records before the online version was ready.

The contract to digitize the records had been awarded to Siemens, who promptly outsourced most of the manual work of transcribing the written records into digital form to firms based in India. It is not clear why the digitization program has gone so far off track. The original records were transcribed to microfiche a couple of decades ago. One possibility is the ink on the original records had faded so much that some of the microfiche copies have become unreadable. The firms in India are almost certainly working from the microfiche copies since the UK government is unlikely to release the original records to a firm outside of the country.

Our hypothesis (and it is just a hypothesis) is that Siemens wants new and improved microfiche copies made from the originals, which would be a massive project in itself and one that almost certainly was not budgeted for in the original contract between Siemens and the UK government. Whatever the reason for the delay, it almost certainly comes down to cost since digitizing old records is a very manual-intensive process.

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