Monday, August 18, 2008

UK vital records web project halted

As reported August 16 on the Guardian.co.uk, "Ancestry hunters stuck in the past as web project fails," genealogists reacted with anger . . . after it emerged that a government website, which promised direct access to 171 years of family records, had been delayed indefinitely following the failure of a Whitehall computer project.

An attempt to scan, index and digitise 250m records of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales from 1837 to the present day was supposed to result in a new public website that would let people trace their ancestors at the touch of a button next February. Now, three years after the government awarded the £16m contract to German computer giant Siemens, the deal has been terminated with only half the work done. It was hoped that the online record would slash costs and speed up the process of tracing ancestry. The collapse means family tree enthusiasts must continue asking for copies of documents by post, which can take seven days and costs £7 or £10 a time.

The failure drew strong criticism from genealogists who were already dismayed that last October the government removed access to paper ledgers that contained indexes of births marriages and deaths at the family records centre in London when it decided to launch the website.

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