Florence Nightingale: Breaking Barriers

Back in March, we received a very interesting enquiry from an 11 year old fan of Florence Nightingale.  Meenakshi is a 6th grade student from Missouri City, Texas, USA and as part of the National History Day 2020 project themed ‘Breaking Barriers in History’, she has written a research paper entitled The Lady with the Lamp: Florence Nightingale Breaking Barriers in Modern Nursing.

According to their website, National History Day sees more than half a million middle and high school students participate annually by undertaking an historical study and writing an essay, preparing an exhibition or performance, creating a documentary or making a website.  Students enter a national competition (due to conclude in June) and Meenakshi’s paper advanced to the district level.  You can read her paper in full on her blog.

About Meenakshi – in her own words:
I am a sixth grader in Missouri City, Texas. In my free time, I enjoy writing short stories, posting on my blog, and spending time with my family. I have many future aspirations that I desire to accomplish. I want to help advocate for creating a cleaner air environment for our Earth, and make the world a better place for future generations. I believe that one change for the better sparks another, and together we can start a rippling chain of dominoes to encourage people in the future to take care of our Earth. When I am older, I want to become a lawyer, following Nightingale’s principles of equality for all people to establish justice. Lastly, I greatly cherish this opportunity to reveal how Florence Nightingale captured the imaginations and sparked the inspiration of thousands of people across the globe. I want to truly recognize Florence Nightingale for all of her life’s tireless efforts, dedicated to creating a healthier world, and shaping nursing into the honorable and respectable position that it is today.


Record Office on Lockdown – new research guides, new catalogues, new resources

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how the work we would be doing from home now that we were unable to have physical access to the archives and local studies collections – well here’s how we’ve been getting on.

Not on the original list of lockdown labours, though still we hope very useful, are a new series of Research Guides to help discover the incredible collections we hold and the best resources to use depending on what it is you are trying to find out.  From tomorrow (Thursday 16 April), we will publish a new Research Guide via the blog every 3 days or so – with the aim that even seasoned researchers will find out something new.

As you might expect, we have received far fewer enquiries from customers than we normally would – between the 1st and 15th April 2019, we received 132 email and postal enquiries, this year we have received just 21.  Mostly, the subjects of the enquiries were familiar to us (house history, getting a copy of your own baptism certificate, researching a family coat of arms, locating the graves of ancestors), but a request for information from someone researching a documentary about Robbie Williams was a little out of the ordinary!  Although our ability to answer emails is somewhat reduced while we cannot access the collections, we are certainly doing our best – including in relation to Robbie Williams.

Most of us are engaged in converting old catalogue lists and other information that can be published online (via our catalogue) so that we can share as much as possible about the collections with everybody around the world:

  • over 500 entries from the Local Studies authors index typed in anticipation of being added to the online catalogue
  • almost 70 detailed biographical files researched and formatted, to make it easier to find other records in the collections relating to the same individuals or families
  • hundreds of individual descriptions for apprenticeship indentures, bastardy bonds and other records that had previously only been summarised.

Several old handwritten and typed (i.e. typewriter) lists have been re-typed so that we can import them into the online catalogue.  We had thought we might have to wait some time before the information would be publicly available, but we hope the first lists will be available from next week.  These collections will include:

  • D8252 Frederick C Boden (1902-1971), miner, author and lecturer
  • D5440 Chesterfield, Bolsover and Clowne Water Board
  • D1661 Diocesan Ecclesiastical Dilapidations records for Derbyshire parishes
  • D9 Dakeyne family of Darley Dale – this was one of the first collections to be deposited with the county council, way back in 1922. Back then the record office didn’t exist and although a rough list of the contents was created back in the 1960s (following the appointment of a County Archivist in 1962), we will finally get the list published in time for the 100th anniversary of its deposit!
  • Plus the detailed descriptions of apprenticeship indentures.

Lots of us are beavering away on converting various other lists that have never been converted to a digital format, so there will be plenty more of these to come in next few weeks.

Several resources for schools have been published online (particularly for teachers doing amazing work with the children of key workers, and for all the parents who have unexpectedly found themselves home-schooling).  In particular there is a mini timeline of Derbyshire history from prehistory to the 21st century – we will need to wait a little while longer yet to see what the historians make of the current world situation!

An Archivist without Archives

As you know Derbyshire Record Office is now closed to the public until further notice due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  At the beginning of this week we had hoped that record office staff would still be able to go to work and be able to spend lots of time working on collections to improve access to them once we re-opened as normal.  Unfortunately, this has not proved to be possible and all staff are now working from home with no access to the collections.  Several staff have joined a rota so that someone is still regularly accessing the building to undertake essential maintenance tasks such as monitoring environmental conditions in the strong rooms to make sure we can keep the collections safe even though the building is empty for most of the time.

So, the question becomes if we don’t have access to the archives and local studies collections, how can we all still continue to work?  It is far from ideal, but there is actually a lot more we can do at home than you might imagine, and we will be keeping you updated about what we’re working via the blog.

I’m now on my third day working from home, and although I can’t give you a long list of things I have achieved, I’m going to take the risk of suggesting a long list of things I would like to achieve, and rely on our followers to keep me on track by seeing how I am getting on.

The first thing that will be a priority for us is answering email enquiries.  As we can’t access the collections, the hard copy indexes and some other systems that require you to be on site, we can’t answer all enquiries as fully as we would normally be able to.  However, we can still access a lot of information via the online catalogue and a couple of other backup systems.

That brings me on to the second thing, which is working through the collections information that is currently not available to the public via the online catalogue to make sure that it is – this includes a lot of work that several volunteers have been working on and can now be edited for publication. There is a lot of work to do on this front, and it is something all the staff are working on during the closure period.  For the time being, we can do the preparatory work but only publish the information online was we are back in the office because of the way the system works.

In terms of improving the catalogues, for a while we have discussing how we can make the collections more searchable and accessible through the use of indexing.  You may have noticed that the Local Studies items in the catalogue are indexed by name and place, and can link through to other items with that index term.  This is not currently the case for the archive items.  In particular, I hope we will be able to create detailed index files for all Derbyshire parishes so that where an item is indexed you can see full information about that place (e.g. which poor law union it was in, which local authority was responsible before 1974, etc.).  Actually indexing the catalogue entries is not something we can currently do at home, but the prep work will make it more useful when we do.

Similarly, we (though not me) will be looking to create similar index files for individuals, families and companies.  Such a task is a bit like painting the Forth Road Bridge as it will never end, but it would be great to start having some collections indexed by name.

Depending on how long we are working from home and the extent to which we can access the systems, I would really like to make lots of improvements to the catalogues that are published so it is clearer how much material is in a collection, what the covering dates are, whether there are any access restrictions to the material, identifying who the creator of the archive was (or is).

Having said we don’t have access to the collections, as we have taken in various digital records recently, I am able to access at least some of these without being at the record office, so I am hoping to spend some time developing our digital archive procedures further, to make the material more accessible and streamline our processes of taking receipt of the records.

Finally, I shall be spending some time developing our offer to schools and making more content available to them for when they need it.  Of course, there are still plenty of children and teachers at school as well as lots of parents home schooling, so I will be looking at what resources we can share with them sooner rather than later to support them in exploring new ways of learning.

What have I missed?  Lots, perhaps that’s enough to be getting on with for now, especially as we don’t know yet how long we will be closed for.  Of course, a lot of this would be easier with access to the collections, but we certainly have enough work to keep us busy and we hope you will see some positive changes to come out of this awful situation.

We all be sharing our experiences on the blog so at least you should have some relief from any boredom of being stuck at home.

Take care and stay safe everyone

Accessing our resources from home

As we cannot provide access on site at the moment due to the coronavirus, here are some links and tips for research you can do from your computer at home.

Do your family history

  • Baptism, marriage and burial registers for Church of England parishes, some as early as 1538, are on Ancestry (charge applies).  See the guide below for advice on the best way to search and browse these records
  • Baptism, marriage and burial registers for some non-conformist churches in Derbyshire have also been made available by The National Archives on The Genealogist website (charge applies).
  • Over 550 Derbyshire school admission registers and log books (i.e. head teacher’s diaries) up to 1914 are available to search and browse on Findmypast (charge applies), plus thousands more from across England and Wales.
  • Find My Past also includes Derbyshire wills before 1858 and marriage licences held by Staffordshire Record Office and selected Derbyshire electoral registers up to 1932
  • Information about Derbyshire wills between 1858 and 1928 can be searched via our catalogue using the person’s name and reference D96/*, but we are unable to provide copies at this time.  Wills after 1928 can usually be ordered online from the Probate Service
  • Any skeletons in your family closet?  Search our database of prisoner records from 1729-1913

Discover local history

  • Family History websites like Ancestry and Findmypast can also be useful for local history. Take a look at sources like the census and trade directories on these websites.
  • Browse and search nearly 60,000 historic photographs of Derby and Derbyshire on Picture the Past
  • View old maps and explore how the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site has changed over the last 200 years on the Derbyshire Heritage Mapping Portal.
  • Many historic Ordnance Survey maps for Derbyshire are also available from the National Library of Scotland
  • Several Derbyshire newspapers are searchable on the British Newspaper Archive (charge applies)

Learn something new

Don’t forget you can still search our catalogue online to discover what is held in the archives and local studies collections and start planning a future visit?

During the closure, staff will be working on several projects to make more information about our collections available online.   We will be sharing our progress here on the blog and via Twitter and hope we can provide some relief from the stresses and boredom of being inside.

If you are doing any research, why not let us know below, we are sure our other followers will be interested or even have some tips for you.

From all the staff at the record office, stay safe and well, take care.