I was quite pleased when I was given the opportunity to contribute a post to the ‘My Tommy’s War’ series as it gave me a a great excuse to resume some research my family started a decade ago.
Frederick W. King and family c. 1918 (from private family collection)
I’m not sure when I first found out that my Great Granddad King, my mum’s paternal grandfather, was killed in the First World War. It’s one of those things that it feels like I’ve always known. I remember taking his medals in to primary school to show the class when we were studying the world wars. As a child I felt sad that my lovely grandad, who was just six years old when his father died, had never really known his father. Some years later my mum showed me a precious album of photographs of the King side of the family which featured the photograph on the left. It shows my great grandparents with their three sons. My granddad, the youngest, is on the right. We think it was taken shortly before great-granddad went overseas and I think you can see the fear and worry in their faces. My mum had learned some details of her granddad’s story from her grandmother. She knew that before the war he worked as a bus conductor and was involved with the Labour Party. She also knew that he was injured while serving abroad and that her grandmother had visited him in hospital in the UK before he died. We were keen to try and find out more. This is the story of how we, two amateur family historians, researched our Tommy’s war.
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A sign in the supermarket yesterday advised me that there were only eight sleeps until Christmas. With that in mind it seemed like a good time to write a post with a festive theme.
Number 10 Christmas card 2009 - The official website of the Prime Minister's Office - archived 4th December 2009
The image above is taken from the website of the Prime Minister’s Office which was archived in December 2009. It shows the image chosen for the official Number 10 Christmas card that year. The accompanying text explains some of the changes the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his wife made to make Number 10 more sustainable. I think the historians of the future will be interested to see the importance placed on sustainability and the environment.
Last week was Diversity Week at The National Archives – a week in which we celebrate the diversity of our collections. This made me think about how the UK Government Web Archive is capturing ways that the UK Central Government web estate is being used to communicate with one minority group - disabled people. In writing this post I am aware that the term ’disabled people’ encompasses a wide range of very different people with many different needs. I will only be able to focus on a few specific examples in this short post.
The web teams responsible for UK government websites work to ensure that sites are as accessible as possible. Guidance about designing accessible websites is provided in the Cabinet Office (formerly Central Office of Information) Web standards and guidelines on delivering inclusive websites. Additionally, most websites in scope for our web archive include a page describing provisions made to ensure the website is accessible. We will have captured these pages as part of our regular archiving schedule. For example, the page below in an archived version of the Directgov website from December 2008 describes the accessibility features of the site.
Directgov - Accessibility features - archived December 2008
Interestingly, the page includes two audio files. In my opinion, one of the great benefits of the internet is the ability to communicate information to users in different ways. Whereas in the past a blind or partially-sighted person would have had to source specialist material, such as a leaflet printed in Braille or an audio book, they can now use inexpensive and commonly available technology such as a screen reader or changing the text size in a browser to access most information on the internet. This is made easier by careful website design.
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Not long after I joined The National Archives someone asked me whether I thought there was any point archiving the ‘job vacancies’ or ‘careers’ sections of government websites. The person who asked felt these sections contained current information which would not be of interest once the posts advertised had been filled. As someone with an interest in both family and social history I disagreed. Although the ‘current vacancies’ section of a website archived 18 months ago probably would not be the most popular resource, I believe that this and other content related to work and employment captured in the web archive will be invaluable to the historians of the future.
The world of work is hugely important to family and social historians. A person’s job can tell us a great deal about their life. It can indicate their status in society, what quality of life they had and how educated they were, amongst other things. Most family historians researching in the UK will first find out about the occupations of their ancestors from a few words on a birth, marriage or death certificate or from a census return. Sometimes it is fairly obvious what the job entailed: my own family tree features a bus driver, a chauffeur, a cricket ball maker and a vast number of agricultural labourers, but some are more of a puzzle . The first image below is taken from my grandparents’ 1941 marriage certificate. My grandmother’s father’s occupation is given as ‘Carter’. A quick poll of colleagues in my office (none of whom are family history experts, I hasten to add) demonstrated that none of them knew what being a carter would entail. Continue reading »
When I tell people that I work at The National Archives they tend to automatically assume that I work with dusty paper records. It is sometimes quite a struggle to explain that I deal with archiving websites and rarely enter the repositories they have seen featured in TV history programmes. Other posts in this blog have explained that The National Archives preserves a diverse range of records which are not all paper based. We hold such things as a glove, a leather case and of course a wide range of digital records including a perhaps surprising number of video games.
My earlier post noted that UK Government began using the internet to communicate with citizens in the mid 1990s. As web technology developed and more people began to use the internet, government organisations started to develop different types of content aimed at particular sections of the population. This included the development of several video games which were hosted on government websites. In some cases we have been able to capture the games and add them to the web archive.
Many of these games were aimed at children, such as the games on the Hedgehog family website, which we archived in November 2008. The Hedgehog family was a Department of Transport initiative which aimed to educate children about road safety. A variety of different types of media were used. The Hedgehog family was replaced by a new initiative called Tales of the Road in November 2008 and the website was removed from the live web. We are pleased that this example of how government used technology to communicate with children has been captured for long term preservation.
The Hedgehog Family website - archived November 2008
In this post I plan to take you on a trip back through history to a time when Tony Blair had been Prime Minister for just six months, Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer and ‘The Teletubbies say “Eh-Oh”‘ was at the top of the UK singles chart. Yes, I am describing the year 1997. I’m aware that 1997 is not long ago in relation to some of the records held at The National Archives, but as my colleague Mark Merifield explained in his recent post, the last few decades have seen drastic changes in the way that public records are produced. A majority of records are now digital and many are made available through the internet.
I work as part of the Web Continuity Team and we are responsible for archiving the websites of UK Central Government departments. The first departmental websites were launched in the mid-1990s just as general use of the internet began to take off. As government use of the internet increased, The National Archives recognised that valuable information was at risk of being lost and in 2003 we began a programme of archiving websites. We worked with the Internet Archive, a US based non-profit organisation which had started archiving websites from around the world as early as 1996. Fortunately for us the Internet Archive had archived several early UK Central Government websites. Some of these early archived versions are now available through the UK Government Web Archive.
One of my favourite examples is this instance of the HM Treasury website which was archived in December 1997.
Viewing the earliest captures in the archive is like a step down memory lane for me. I’m transported back to the dark days of dial up and having to wait through 10 minutes of strange noises while the modem dialled several phone numbers before finally connecting to the web. Then after all that having to disconnect a few minutes later because someone else in the house needed to use the phone!