From Banana to Vesuvius…
When one thinks of the RAF in the Second World War, most people have visions of squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes over Kent in 1940, or the Dambusters of 617 squadron. The Operational Record Books (‘ORBs’ or more formally RAF Forms 540 and 541) of the squadrons have always been very popular records and are now online. But nearly every unit of the RAF had to compile and submit ORBs, and the majority of these units were not squadrons at all, but an amazing variety of other units, and their ORBs have been gathered together in record series AIR 29 as ‘Miscellaneous Units’.
1 Armoured Car Company, Khormaksar, Aden 1946 (AIR 29/57)
For the last two years, a small team of staff have been working through the AIR 29s up to the end of the Second World War, improving and expanding the catalogue descriptions, to make the records easier to locate. Many of the original descriptions were very brief, and relied heavily on unexplained abbreviations, which didn’t make searching very easy (anyone want to guess at what ‘AACU’ or ‘Beam ATF’ stood for?).
In going through the first 1,212 pieces of the series, we have found units completely missed from the catalogue, unravelled all of the abbreviations, corrected dates and detailed the changes of unit name or location. A typical description before the project was ‘AIR 29/811: No. 428, Buc’. This has now been expanded to ’428 Repair and Salvage Unit, based at Buc, France (RSU)’. Unit abbreviations were retained as they often appear on airmen’s service records from this period. Place-name descriptions were also improved so that researchers can use the records even if they do not know which units were in which locations. Continue reading »
…winning the hearts and minds
Getting information management embedded in an organisation’s culture can be pretty hard. It can seem that, no matter what good programs and processes you develop and get signed off by senior management, users just don’t care.
Speaking to the business can be hard, so in this blog we’re going get through to your users through the power of Tolstoy. Trust me, it’ll be fine… probably.
‘When starting on a journey… men capable of reflection are generally in a serious frame of mind. At such moments one reviews the past and plans for the future’
First of all we’re going to have to embrace the fact that some people just aren’t going to want to talk to you. Don’t take it personally, I’m sure they’re just busy. If they’re not and still won’t talk to you… well we’ll get to that.
As we all know, everyone loves it when a plan comes together. Everyone feels better if they’ve been a part of something that has worked and made a difference. So looking at what has been going on in the business area you’re engaging with, what problems and issues do they have, and what precedents has this set for poor information management?
If you can demonstrate on a storyboard where the team has been, where they are now, and where they could be, you’re already winning the war because they can see the advantages immediately and help shape the development and delivery of the information management strategy.
The Information Managers; home in time for tea and medals (catalogue reference: COPY 1/397)
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‘Too young to cross the road, we were deported to the other side of the world to cold, cruel institutions. We were robbed of our identities, our dignity and our families. Our parents lost their children.’
International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families
A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo's Industrial Farm, Russell, Manitoba, c. 1900. CC Source: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/022/f1/a117285.jpg
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, around 80,000 children were sent abroad to Canada to work as labourers or domestic servants. They were children of poor families, some were orphans, but by no means all, most under the age of 14.
They were sent by various charitable organisations including Thomas Barnado’s, keen to ‘solve’ the problem of pauper children in Britain without necessarily implementing social change back home. Continue reading »
Did you know that The National Archives has a Business Archives Advice Manager? Alex Ritchie is the man in question, and I thought today’s blog should introduce you to some elements of his work. It’s all part of a national strategy for business archives, in which The National Archives is a partner.
The home of the archives at F Hoffmann-La Roche
What’s so special about business archives?
The written heritage of Britain is not only in public hands, and represents more than individuals, families and organisations. Any commercial entity, from massive international corporations to small family businesses and sole traders, needs to maintain records to succeed. They keep accounts, staff records and production records. Designs, publicity, staff records and product images are also kept. Their value can be anything from heritage branding to patent information crucial to company income or Victorian engineering diagrams for structures still in active use today. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that many businesses retain an archive and that they are among the richest collections for historical research.
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We are always looking for new and better ways to make the content of the UK Government Web Archive accessible. One of the most innovative and exciting developments in this area is Memento, which was developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory in the USA.
Memento aims to add a time dimension to the web, by allowing users access to a specific web resource (for example, a web page, a document, or data) now, and at some point in the past, by using web archives. It harnesses an important principle of the web: the Unique Resource Identifier (URI). URIs identify specific resources on the web and, as the web archive preserves the original URI and ‘knows’ when that resource was captured, it can ‘slice’ into the web archive to show it to the user. Continue reading »
For the first time, records of aliens who settled in Britain and who became British citizens through the process of naturalisation are available to search by name and nationality and download as part of our online collection. The collection covers the period 1801 to 1871 and includes a small number of early papers relating to denization (a form of British citizenship that conferred some but not all rights of a British subject), and naturalisation by Act of Parliament; but the bulk of the papers relate to those who became British after 1844, when the process for becoming British was very much simplified.
In that year, the Naturalization Act (7 & 8 Vict. c. 66) provided that every alien residing in Great Britain with intent to settle should present a memorial to the Secretary of State stating their age, trade and duration of residence. Thereupon, the Secretary of State would issue to the applicant a certificate granting rights of a natural born subject with the exception of the right of being of the Privy Council or parliament. The Act maintained the taking of the oath of allegiance and Act of Succession and provided that any woman married to a natural born or naturalised person was deemed naturalised herself. It further stipulated that applicants wishing to become naturalised citizens should state their intention to reside and settle in Great Britain. This newly available collection of records consists of the memorials of over 7,000 aliens issued under the 1844 Act, which remained in force until 1871 (copies of the accompanying certificates of naturalisation are in the series C 54).
Design for Great Exhibition wallpaper (catalogue ref: BT 43/288/78974)
There is a rich mix of cases from across the world, but most relate to subjects from Europe, as, during this period, immigrants arrived from a number of European countries, notably France and German states, but also – in smaller numbers – from Italian states, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Russian, Poland, and Sweden. Not all of these individuals settled in the UK; many were merchants or people simply visiting the country. The majority were equipped with skills, however. Many were artistic, such as musicians, painters and artisans.
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The idea for writing The Children of Henry VIII appealed to me mainly because I’d got fed up with people from tv companies or guides in stately homes trying to tell me that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn came to visit X or Y places as a family, with baby Elizabeth in one or other of their arms. In reality, Henry VIII always followed the protocol laid down in the Royal Book as this had been revised and updated by his grandmother Margaret Beaufort in 1493, which meant that all his four children were brought up in nurseries set apart from where their parents were living, often many miles apart.
The Children of Henry VIII, by John Guy
The family were together only on a handful of occasions in Henry’s entire reign, and none of his children spent much time alone with either him or their respective mothers. I wanted to include Henry Fitzroy, the king’s illegitimate son, who tends to be written out of history, since he was a crucial part of the story in the earlier years. But I particularly wanted to shed light on the difficult personal relationships between the squabbling siblings, who of course all had different mothers, since I thought this might improve our understanding of the period as a whole. Until I started to write this book, I hadn’t fully appreciated the degree of jealousy, mutual distrust and sibling rivalry between the children, or how far their childhood experiences shaped their characters and subsequent lives.
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My role here at The National Archives is to carry out and manage customer research and make sure that the voice of the customer is heard. When I say ‘customer research’, I don’t mean the historical research that our users explore but rather researching the needs, wants and expectations of our customers. This can involve a whole host of activities including focus groups, interviews, sitting next to someone at a computer observing how they behave and even asking people to fill out diaries of their experiences for us to look at. All of which is helps us improve the services we offer, with our users at the heart of it.
The community in action
One audience which has always been a challenge to get in depth and real time feedback from is the ‘online user’. A dauntingly large group which incorporates over 13 million people a year carrying out a huge breadth of tasks for a huge number of reasons. Some of them are regular visitors while some visit just once never to return again. With such a broad and diverse audience, how can we make sure individuals get their opinions heard and how can we get them more involved in what we do? Myself and colleague James Lawson set up a project team to find a solution.
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The approximate position of ‘C’ Company, 2/18 London Regiment on 1-2 May 1918. Detail from a sketch map within the unit war diary. (Reference: WO 95/4670)
Frederick William Beament, my great grandmother’s younger brother, fought in the British Army during the First World War. He died on 2 May 1918, aged just 21.
Frederick in his army uniform, with his mother, Elizabeth. (Private collection)
In researching this blog post for our My Tommy’s War series, I had two major advantages. Firstly, I already knew some information about Frederick. Much of this knowledge had been passed down through successive generations of the family and other details had been researched by relatives on my father’s side more recently. Secondly, I already knew about some sources at The National Archives that would be likely to help me find out more about Frederick, because advising people about records held here is part of my job.
Who was Frederick?
Frederick was born on 23 June 1896 in Holborn, in central London, the youngest of at least eight children. His father, George, died when he was very young and his widowed mother, Elizabeth, brought up the younger children alone. Like his father and many of his siblings, Frederick started work in the printing industry when he left school. In the 1911 census, when he was 14 years old, his occupation is stated as ‘reading boy’ for a printing firm.
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Question: How does the Government know which records to send to The National Archives?
Answer: Through a process of ‘appraising’ records to identify those likely to be worthy of keeping forever. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But when you consider how much digital information is created everyday across every Government department and agency, how do you do this without reading every single file?
To explain this process, I’ve prepared a short case study, one which is slightly more abstract than the normal ‘Department X’ or ‘Agency Y’ scenarios. Based on the feedback we got on the Information Management in the Movies piece last year, and in honour of 4th May later this week, I’m officially revisiting Star Wars.
Looking for a galaxy far, far away? (catalogue ref: INF 14/250)
The fictional ‘Galactic Empire’ employs thousands of staff, has extremely wide ranging functions and must therefore generate huge volumes of records. How would it decide what to send to The National Archives? Let’s find out:
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