After talking about International Archives Day recently, I have asked Patricia Owen, who has spent many years hunting down books and manuscripts in libraries and archives, to write a guest post about her experiences of using them.
To see the very words written to commute the sentence of hanging for my Irish rebel ancestor, Nicholas Delaney, to transportation to an ultimately prosperous life in Australia was a memorable result of visiting the National Library of Ireland in Dublin.
The first I knew about him was when I walked into the Old Post Office in Hartley, New South Wales, to ask if they had any information about the farm my father grew up on. I was handed a transcript of my great-great-grandfather’s trial deposited by a relative of ours.
But consulting the archives at Borough level has become more difficult in this time of cuts. Hammersmith and Fulham [in London] was reduced to opening two days a month, with one trained archivist and volunteer helpers struggling to cope with a roomful of enquirers.
The co-operation of the borough with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea has just given us a day a week; a help, if not what we used to take for granted.
Ancestor tracing and local history are as popular today as they are valuable in bringing the past to life; we need to support the archives that let us see and handle its records for ourselves.
Patricia Owen was for many years a lecturer in teacher education. She has been an announcer with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and was the second-ever winner of BBC Television’s Mastermind. She writes about local history and is also the co-author of A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798.
The UK National Archives have just published a blog post guide to preparing for a visit to archives. I think it’s well worth reading.
Update: Patricia Owen died on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Rest in peace.