Discovering your own relative: At the National Archives

At the heart of the Saracens WW1 project, and indeed almost any genealogy projects, has always laid the intention to inspire others to research into their own family backgrounds. For us it is especially crucial, relying as we do often on family photos and stories to corroborate our suspicions about whether a player was indeed a Saracen. (I have elaborated on this further in blog post ‘proving Saracens.’) It has been fortunate for myself and Colin, both slightly more traditional archival historians by training, that we have had help in genealogical research from Catherine, who has brought a level of expertise and efficiency to the research. Why not then pass on some of the lessons I have learned through the process to better facilitate others.

Spend a day at The National Archives…

Born from the loins of the Royal Festival Hall and National Theatre before being somewhat improbably floated up river, the main building itself resembles the sort of 1970’s concrete spaceship that is difficult to love. As an alumnus of the University of York however the lakeside and concrete setting feel oddly homely, although the distinct lack of geese ferociously copulating attests to the slightly more serious atmosphere present at Kew. Unenthusiastic waterfowl aside it is a hive of activity. Running until November 2018 they have made themselves a hub for research into the First World War, with numerous talks throughout the year on topics varying from trench life to the war in the East.

The National Archives, Kew

The National Archives, Kew

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University of York- Spot the similarity

 

 

The sculpture dotted around are something of real interest, and I personally thing great poignancy. Internationally renowned Canadian artist Ian Kirkpatrick has designed a number of different sculptures, “was heavily influenced by commercial wartime packaging design. Indeed, the sculptures are made from cardboard and installed from an initial “flat pack” state, allowing them to be collapsed and reassembled for an “instant” exhibition experience.”

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What then are the advantages, aside from simply an inspiring location? The most important is access to various resources. Whilst on site, even using your own laptop, you are able to access a wealth of government files, census records and military documents that are otherwise often hidden behind a paywall. We have been lucky with our project to receive the support of genesreunited, but other services can prove expensive whilst still not giving you access to all the necessary records. The best place to start is the NA’s own Research Guides, which offer a simple step by step instruction as to finding your relative, or person of interest. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/#find-a-research-guide. The NA also run a series of training days and seminars, teaching research skills such as how to get the most out of digitised archives, and helping build an effective database. Whilst the standard of entertainment offered up by the wildlife may be lacking, for any enthusiastic researcher it is a day well spent.

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