Family History and Beyond – talks and courses at The Keep
30 July 2018
By Kate Elms
One of the perks of working at The Keep and, in particular, being involved in the planning and delivery of our public events programme, is having the opportunity to attend most of the events themselves. I’ve learnt a huge amount from the fantastic speakers who have given talks here, and also from colleagues who have helped curate displays of relevant original archives, enabling us to showcase some of the remarkable material in our care.
Family historians are among our most dedicated users, and earlier this year, we were delighted to collaborate with the Sussex Family History Group (SFHG) on an introductory session for those inspired to start tracking down their ancestors. SFHG volunteer Roy Winchester gave a presentation that covered all the basics, from how to draw up a family tree to how to interpret the data to be found in census returns and parish records, as well as shedding light on alternative sources of information that can be found at The Keep, such as electoral registers, street directories and newspapers. The event concluded with coffee and biscuits and a lively question-and-answer session.
For those hoping to go ‘beyond the family tree’, we recently piloted a six-week creative writing course led by author and life historian Shivaun Woolfson. A group of ten participants met on Saturday mornings to share their ancestors’ stories and explore different ways of presenting them. Finding a balance between historical accuracy and storytelling was important; within families, much can be left unsaid – for all sorts of reasons – so using contextual information and personal experiences to fill in the gaps is part of the process. Many of the writers were inspired by a family heirloom – an object, photograph or letter – and the course included advice from The Keep’s conservator on caring for family collections as well as research tips and guidance from our archivists.
The participants read their work aloud at the last session, to which friends and family were invited. Each story was unique and personal – and all the more powerful for that – but the issues touched on were universal, from infant mortality, the impact of war, poverty and life in the workhouse to marriage, loss and the position of women. There was a strong sense of place, too, with locations ranging from Vancouver to Victorian Rodmell. The final morning concluded with a plea for us to repeat the course next year, with longer sessions and more of them! Watch this space…
Anyone interested in family, local or social history should make a point of delving in to what archivists refer to as the ‘parish chest’. We were thrilled earlier this month to welcome Elizabeth Hughes back to The Keep to share her expertise on this subject and to draw attention to some of the little-known gems in the parish archives.
Parishes were the main unit of local government until the mid 19th century, and Elizabeth highlighted material relating among other things to education, charity and, in particular, relief of the poor. These records illustrate vividly what life must have been like for those with no wealth or status who were dependent on the parish when they fell on hard times. Rigorous settlement examinations, for example, were recorded with care and can provide extraordinary detail about the lives of named individuals who would never have appeared in the history books. The process itself – of trying to establish the right to settle in a particular place and quite frequently being refused – has uncomfortable parallels in the present day, making it more relevant than ever.
The Keep holds an extensive range of material to support family history research, and volunteers from the Sussex Family History Group are on hand at from 10am – 4pm, Tuesday to Friday, to provide help getting started. For more information about future talks and courses, please see the Events page of our website. If you would like to receive news of forthcoming events, you can sign up to our monthly e-newsletter via our website.
New drop-in service for researchers
5 January 2016
We’ll be starting the New Year at The Keep with a new, free service for those undertaking local or house history research. We realise that the range of material available – to order through our online catalogue and to consult in our Reference and Reading Rooms – can be daunting, both for those starting out and for those who feel they have reached a dead end. So from 13 January 2016, on alternate Wednesday afternoons, our in-house researcher Andrew Lusted will be available for short one-to-one consultations in the Reference Room.
For house historians, Andrew will be able to advise which sources might be worth a look, from building plans, street directories and electoral registers to local wills, court books and records of taxation. Where appropriate, he will also introduce the tithe, estate and Ordnance Survey maps held at The Keep. For wider local history enquiries, he may suggest exploring parish material, estate records, local newspapers, or archives relating to schools, asylums and workhouses (bearing in mind that the closure periods for the last three of these can be up to 100 years).
Our aim with this new initiative is not to carry out the research for you (we will continue to offer a separate research service); instead, we can provide a little more time than is usually available (20-30 minutes max) for an introductory chat and some expert guidance. We hope this will ensure you benefit from as wide a range of resources as possible. Our frontline staff will be on hand, as always, for additional help and advice and, for genealogy enquiries, volunteers from the Sussex Family History Group are often here to share their expertise. The sessions will run initially on a drop-in basis, so appointments are not necessary and there may be some waiting time. Please see the What’s On pages on our website for further details.
Keep Asking Questions: How do I find First World War resources at The Keep?
23rd January 2015
By Dr Chris Kempshall
The Keep has a huge range of sources that relate to the First World War but knowing where to begin can be tricky. The sensible starting point would be to type ‘First World War’ into the search bar on our website and this will bring up a lot of different resources and material. However, it is not a conclusive set of results. Such is the wealth of material that is held in The Keep’s archives we have not yet labelled everything that relates to the war with ‘First World War’ so it appears in the catalogue. We are constantly building this aspect though so give us time and we’ll get it all!
In the meantime there are alternative ways of searching. In many ways, anything that happened between the years 1914-1918 relates to the First World War. With this in mind searching for particular dates or places (such as ‘Hastings’ AND ‘1917’) within that timeframe will bring up records relating to the war effort that may have slipped through the net on a general ‘First World War’ search. You can also use the advanced-search option, where you can add a single date or range (for example, 1914-1918) and other more specific search terms.
In the Reference Room we also have access to the databases of ancestry.co.uk through which you can find the surviving military records and medal rolls for soldiers who served in the World Wars. This can be a particularly useful source of information when trying to work out where a soldier was deployed, which regiment and battalion they served with, and any awards or decorations they received.
If you find items of interest regarding the First World War in East Sussex then please also consider contributing them to the East Sussex WW1 website: http://www.eastsussexww1.org.uk/. The website showcases the County’s many different stories and experiences during the war.