Exploring the Archive with the Archive Service Assistants

To celebrate the start of the national ‘Explore Your Archive’ campaign, the Archive Services Assistants have set ourselves a challenge; to write about our role and work using the key themes of the campaign:

ArchI’ve Discovered, Detected, Learnt, Remembered, Engaged, Unlocked, Unearthed, Explored, Connected, Opened, Created, Imagined, Revealed, Found, Celebrated

Have you Discovered Tyne and Wear Archives yet?

Tucked away in a corner of the Discovery museum, down a long wooden panelled corridor, is our public searchroom. From Tuesday to Friday (10.00am to 4.00pm) this is the home of the Archive Service Assistants and where we will help you explore our Archive.

Don’t worry, you won’t need the sleuthing skills of Sherlock Holmes to search our systems! Our catalogue and user guides are even available online (http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/tyne-and-wear-archives/catalogue-amp-user-guides.html). Once you have Detected what you need for your research, come and see us and we will tell you the next step.

As Archives Services Assistants we are always learning from our visitors and the research we undertake. Recently I’ve Learnt about Newcastle’s Poor Union, mining medals and German raids in the North East during World War II. The range of topics covered in our searchroom in a single day is astounding; plans for model making, west-end pubs for a trip down memory lane, eighteenth century complaints letters about broken lamps and people researching the history of their own home. Our visitors have Remembered lots of things they thought they had forgotten!

Students and academics regularly visit the Archive, from local, national and international colleges and universities. Over the summer a lady travelled from America to see our items on the writer Githa Sowerby (DF.SOW). She was in our searchroom every day for almost two weeks, and we missed her when she left! October and November are especially busy when the planning students come to the searchroom for the first time to view building plans.

Whether they come from the other side of the world or just down the road, family history brings a lot of visitors to the Archive. Many have Engaged with our mentors, volunteers that offer advice and support starting family history research. The Archive Services Assistants can highlight research aids that may be of use to you and log you onto the Archive’s subscriptions with ‘Ancestry’ and ‘Find My Past’.

Our Archive has Unlocked secrets of the past.

Archive Service Assistants answer email enquiries and undertake paid research. We frequently discover interesting items that spark our interest. I found a 19 century information sheet on colliery cholera featuring a blue lizard. And while working on a paid research report, Alyson Unearthed an interesting snippet from our Swan Hunter collection about the Carpathia – one of the first ships to reach the Titanic.

She was 58 miles from the ‘Titanic’ when she sank, although only designed for 14 knots, by hard steaming she covered the distance in 4½ hours an average speed of 16 knots, despite the ice & reached the scene at 3.30am 1¼hours after she had sunk.’ [DS.SWH/5/4/4/7]

Did you know that when you have successfully Explored the Archive, we can (usually) produce copies of items and images. Copies are dependent on the size, condition and copyright considerations of the item, but we frequently produce copies of house plans, general arrangement ship plans for model makers. Have you seen our new Tyne Bridge calendar yet? The images used for the calendar are held within the Archive and large prints can be made, just ask in the searchroom!

The Archive Service Assistants are a very Connected team! We work alongside the archivists and conservators within the Archive Team, with museum colleagues and also with people and organisations outside of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. We frequently assist members of the Learning Team to search the archives for items to include in their ‘Boxes of Delights’, while we worked with the Wor Life Team to create the Rivers at War Exhibition in the Archives corridor. The Wor Life Team also used our images in their promotional leaflets. We support Tyne and Wear Archive and Museum’s Project Officer (volunteers) with school work experience placements and facilitated introductions and interviews between a Masters student and members of our team and volunteers. We have also recently supported the Outreach Team with their Culture and Cake project and their adult day care staff training afternoon.

Did you know that the doors of the Archives can be Opened just for you? Archive Services Assistants host Archive Experience days. For more information see: http://www.shoptwmuseums.co.uk/trace-your-family-or-house-history—tyne–wear-archives-experience-days-6446-p.asp

During the school holidays the doors of the Archive are opened for children to get creative. Our Family Fun days have proved really popular and live up to their name! Based on themes associated with collections in our archives, children (and adults) have Created their own family trees, rogues galleries and ships. However we must admit that our recent Halloween Family Fun day was really an excuse for the Archive Service Assistants to dress up and make Halloween cats – not at all scary but a lot of fun!

Have you ever Imagined what items are held in our Archives? When people think of an archive, they think of books, books and more books. And that’s true we do have a large number of books, in many different shapes and sizes, but also negatives, slides, photographs, scrapbooks, minute books, church registers, building plans, maps (including maps as large as our car park!) – the list goes on and on…. Some of our photographic collections can be viewed on our Flickr. I particularly like the images produced from a collection of glass slides of fairground scenes. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/sets/72157627692102509/#).

What happens behind the scenes at the Archives is not often Revealed, which is something the Archive Service Assistants hope to remedy in future blogs. Our stores contain over 12 miles of shelving and we can walk up to ¼ mile to get your items so we will have a lot to tell you about!

And our Archive is always growing. Items Found in unexpected places and brought to the Archive include workhouse records rescued from a skip (1842 – 1866, accession 5531), a log book from East Walker School (1878 – 1904, accession 5530) and a 1930’s Police identification book, Newcastle upon Tyne which a member of the public brought to us after acquiring it from a junk shop (DX1190).

Archives enable people to bring stories to life and we feel that this should be Celebrated. Hundreds of archives from all over the UK and Ireland are taking part in the Explore your archive campaign and we at Tyne and Wear Archives are proud to be taking part.

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