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IWM Lives of the Great War Project - reservations

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bedfordyeoman

David,

You make the valid point that 'Lives' will provide a platform and that's something that I will take into account. Perhaps there ought to be a central register of research interests/websites/groups (somebody may tell me that there is one, I'm not a regular poster here).

I don't see research as necessarily being of benefit to others. I enjoy research, and that's an end in itself. I have carried out lots of research which is probably of little benefit to man or beast! As said, I'm happy to share information with others who ask and may decide to publish information for the benefit of others but I don't consider myself under any pressure to do so.

EW

We have to face the fact that, as researchers, we have no entitlement to free source material, especially if it's provided online. As said, I did much of my research before Ancestry etc, so I obtained a lot of my information for free on visits to the PRO and that, of course, is still possible. Institutions know that there has been a genealogical explosion and are seeking to profit from it. I know of one institution that holds hundreds of WW1 service records, not available at TNA, and looks to charge £50 for each enquiry. Can you blame them ? But it's a real bind for us military researchers, I agree.

I wasn't querying IWM's motives. I was just airing a few thoughts about the tension that may exist between us 'amateurs' and a facility that may seek to promote commercial concerns in one way or another.

Best

David

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Richard Grayson

Greetings to everyone. I have only just seen this topic but I am very interested in the many good points which have been made as I am chairing the academic advisory group for the project. I wanted to respond briefly on two issues.

Some posters have raised issues about how rigour can be guaranteed. The simple fact is that it cannot be guaranteed in every entry, but what you will see is that each entry has a space for sources. My hope is that this will make it as transparent as possible how far something is rigorously sourced. If the accuracy of a source becomes a particular issue for someone, they can then follow up on the source, and there can be discussion about that. Of course, if no source is cited, then people can make their own judgements about it. I particularly hope that people carrying out their research will, because of the fields which allow source entry, ask themselves how they know that something in a family story is correct. So, for example, in the Shankill area, the most locally-linked volunteer battalion was the 9th Royal Irish Rifles. You can find cases of people thinking that their ancestor served in that battalion simply because they know they were in the RIR. But it might then turn out to be the 2nd not the 9th in whcih they spent some/much/all of the war. So at the very least, I hope we will all work towards rigour!

The other issue relates to how many men can be found. Various posters have cited various figures and there has been some scepticism over cities, with 50% or less mentioned. I wouldn't be nearly so sceptical. I think that a combination of methods can very rapidly allow you to get to over two-thirds, while is my estimate of how many West Belfast servicemen I found for my book Belfast Boys. That was without mass public attention to what might be in private hands and could be added on to my total. The methods I used are set out in the book's appendix, but I have a sizeable article due out in War in History(next year I hope) suggesting how those methods can be adapted to other areas. One of the points I make in that article is that some kind of common standard for saving data is essential if we are ever to gather together all the material saved on people's hard drives, and I hope that the project will do that.

I very much look foward to working with as many as are interested in the project. I really do think it could be one of the most significant (and possible the most significant) ways in which the public will engage with the centenary.

Best wishes,

Richard

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Seadog

How do you see the public engaging with the project, is it not the case that those most interested and providing they are aware of its existence will be primarily looking for relatives? I cannot see at this time what the general appeal will be for the casual visitor particularly when a subscription will be required to view those contents linked to the present and future pay-sites but no doubt time will tell.

Norman

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keithmroberts

To be honest my main concern at the moment is that it appears that sometime around either November 1918, or perhaps at best the centenary of the Versailles Treaty the project will apparently be locked and switch to a care and maintenance basis. Quite a significant minority of contributors will not cease their own research efforts because the centenary has passed. That I think is a great shame, even if the level of new contributions were to drop dramatically, there will always be new information teased out.

In particular for example the eventual digital access to the Pensions Record cards will enable many identities to be confirmed or otherwise, and might lead to considerable improvements in the quality of the data.

Keith

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lukesmith

Hi Keith,

Re.

To be honest my main concern at the moment is that it appears that sometime around either November 1918, or perhaps at best the centenary of the Versailles Treaty the project will apparently be locked and switch to a care and maintenance basis.

Yes, I've been reflecting on this aspect of the project. Your earlier comments here have made me (and others) start to question this. I've got an open mind now and think there may be a good case for keeping it open indefinitely. Of course there are sustainability questions around technical support -- but these are not insurmountable. Other views welcome on this.

And of course it would be amazing if the PRCs could be part of this project in some way.

Thank you for your thoughts -- please keep them coming,

Luke (Smith)

IWM

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David_Underdown

David,

You make the valid point that 'Lives' will provide a platform and that's something that I will take into account. Perhaps there ought to be a central register of research interests/websites/groups (somebody may tell me that there is one, I'm not a regular poster here).

I don't see research as necessarily being of benefit to others. I enjoy research, and that's an end in itself. I have carried out lots of research which is probably of little benefit to man or beast! As said, I'm happy to share information with others who ask and may decide to publish information for the benefit of others but I don't consider myself under any pressure to do so.

The benefit to others may be minimal, but by not publishing anything, you also cut yourself off from contact with others whose research happens to intersect with yours. With the men I'm researching, I always do some simple google searches for the name, and it's surprising how frequently you bump into some unexpected detail, and can contact someone who is looking at a different angle, and if your own data is out there, people will contact you too. Lives... is likely to shoot up to the top of Google rankings due to its scope and links to other resources.

People are becoming more familiar with resources like Wikipedia too, of course you can just use it, but it only gets better by people dipping a toe into editing. Of course, anything you do there can also be commercially exploited, and in an open access world, that's increasingly the model for all sorts of things.

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Richard Grayson

How do you see the public engaging with the project, is it not the case that those most interested and providing they are aware of its existence will be primarily looking for relatives? I cannot see at this time what the general appeal will be for the casual visitor particularly when a subscription will be required to view those contents linked to the present and future pay-sites but no doubt time will tell.

Norman

Certainly lots of people will be looking for relatives, and they will not in the first instance find them in the project. But one of the project's key points is to encourage all those who are looking for material and find it, to do something with it in addition to keeping it just within their family (worthwhile though that is). So the project will becaome both a database and a memorial, not only to the people who served, but also those who, a century later, did the research.

Best wishes,

Richard

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Justinth

Hi Luke

When are we going to be able to see a mock up of what the pages will look like? I presume you must have one by now.

Best wishes

Justin

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lukesmith

Hi Justin

We aren't yet ready to share design concepts. We'd prefer to give as many of you as we can an early preview of the system, when it is ready for that. We will have a closed beta testing period, months before we open the system to the public. We are planning on inviting people from the forum (and elsewhere) and then asking you to help us improve the system, before it goes public. The dates for this have not yet been set. For those interested in software development, we are following an 'agile' process which means that the design evolves as we develop. It allows us to incorporate feedback from many places, including what has already been said here (and we are already doing that). However, it does mean that completion dates are somewhat uncertain. I believe that is a fair tradeoff as we want to get this right and it is going to be around for a long time. A month or two now does not make much difference in the long run.

As soon as we are ready to say anything about dates, we will say it here. And we will invite forum members to help us in the closed beta period. Again, I am asking for your patience, but I hope you can see that we are genuine about listening to you and learning from the wide expertise here on the forum.

many thanks,

Luke (Smith)

IWM

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Sunnylew75

On the question of rigour, or of oversight, could there be a potential for something like the "Online Parish Clerks" that the family history community have for parish records, but instead some sort of an "Online Regimental Adjutant"?

Like a moderator on a forum, those who are willing to take on the position could be a stopping point for people who are researching family history and not sure of where to go next. Obviously this would require some effort on a moderator's part, but with it would go the ability to make sure that a unit they are personally invested in is researched properly.

It could also enable someone who has been researching a pet unit on their own for some time the ability to recruit and to guide a community that will further the same ends.

I don't think anyone would like to become a one stop look-up shop, but if an adjutant was responsible for maintaining an FAQ of the best sources for a particular unit (local papers, parish magazines, record societies, memoirs etc) and pointing people in the right direction, the quality of entries can't help but improve.

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Richard Grayson

On the question of rigour, or of oversight, could there be a potential for something like the "Online Parish Clerks" that the family history community have for parish records, but instead some sort of an "Online Regimental Adjutant"?

Like a moderator on a forum, those who are willing to take on the position could be a stopping point for people who are researching family history and not sure of where to go next. Obviously this would require some effort on a moderator's part, but with it would go the ability to make sure that a unit they are personally invested in is researched properly.

It could also enable someone who has been researching a pet unit on their own for some time the ability to recruit and to guide a community that will further the same ends.

I don't think anyone would like to become a one stop look-up shop, but if an adjutant was responsible for maintaining an FAQ of the best sources for a particular unit (local papers, parish magazines, record societies, memoirs etc) and pointing people in the right direction, the quality of entries can't help but improve.

Sounds like an idea that is potentially very useful. I'll talk to Luke about it when we next meet.

Best wishes,

Richard

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E Wilcock

I have spent more time on family History research than on the Great War and have experienced the help and local knowledge of Parish Clerks in Family History Associations. I would be cautious of suggesting that this system can be adopted by the IWM site.

Family History Societies are properly constituted organisations with members and elected officers.

Before many Parish records went on line, the role of Parish Clerks was to make available information from the local parish records - however many of these records were published in booklet form by the Family History Associations and were on sale. In cases where records had been filmed, one was directed to a local archive far from where one lived, or given the suggested names of professional researchers who could search records on one's behalf. Being limited to one village the Parish Clerks had an unrivallled knowledge of local church records within a small area with which they themselves often had a family history connection.

My husband and I inherited an archive related to a TA artillery Brigade. There is no way in which we could acquire the expertise or offer the services provided by family History Association Parish Clerks.

We do invite and receive contact from people whose grandparents or relatives served or may possibly have served in "our" Brigade. But we ourselves learned what we know from this forum and in many cases suggest that they make further enquiries of First World War experts on this Forum. The local paper which covers "our" Rugby battery is not on line and we have not read it. We have done our best for "our" Brigade but have other topics of research and other demands on our time.

While editing two FWW diaries, we in turn have received expert help from Forum members who are expert in a particular unit, or infantry battalion.

They too are extremely busy people and their knowledge can never be exhaustive. The composition of an army unit is far wider and far more varied than the population of an English village before 1800.

Moreover there are already local family history researchers with whom we have an overlap of interest. Researchers of a particular parish participation in World War 1 or of names on a local memorial have parish records of and extensive knowledge of the particular men from that village who served in "our" Brigade. There is a fruitful exchange of information between local researchers and unit researchers. Village or City experts are expert in their own local parish sources and I can never rival that. We simply match their local knowledge of a few individuals to what we know of the unit.

My husband points out that in an unofficial way, some of us are already moderating our units. But this is a voluntary situation which makes no claim to authority or academic expertise. The reality is that many family researchers are retired people, may have health problems and be unable to maintain their own web sites let alone take on an official role.

The current partial and voluntary system works well. In our view it would be counter-productive for the IWM to try and make it formal or universal.

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Sunnylew75

My husband points out that in an unofficial way, some of us are already moderating our units. But this is a voluntary situation which makes no claim to authority or academic expertise. The reality is that many family researchers are retired people, may have health problems and be unable to maintain their own web sites let alone take on an official role.

The current partial and voluntary system works well. In our view it would be counter-productive for the IWM to try and make it formal or universal.

I agree with you entirely, E Wilcock.

I think it would be far too difficult to have an "official" "Adjutant" of a unit. And there will be likely many lonely units that have no-one actively invested in their story.

My thought was more along the lines of an option for someone who would like more of a leadership role to take that challenge on. Another way of looking at it would be similar to an administrator on a forum.

I think the general plan for the Lives of the Great War project is to engage people, so if some people are willing to put up their hand in their own area of interest, I hope they have the option of doing so.

I don't really know the best or most fruitful way of this being done.

Another idea along a similar line could be a wiki style edit and conversation option. This could be used for discussion of sources and veracity for each man (just like on each page of Wikipedia). A certain level of self moderation will be necessary so that the soldier's story is as factual as possible, but we all know that on Wikipedia the ideal is not always obtained. Those most concerned - and probably most well versed - with a unit could have the option of becoming "Online Adjutant" and having, if not more online rights to the pages, at least a moral imperative as the "Online Adjutant" in discussions of where the truth lies amidst sources.

The role could be as active or not as a person wishes, and perhaps there could be multiple "Adjutants" for units if more than one person has an interest. These could still be people to whom questions are directed by those who are lost, but once again it is all voluntary, so an "Adjutant" need not do more than they wish.

Once again, this is only a half-baked idea, but it may be somewhere on the right track of creating an online resource which is as factual as possible, and where those most concerned in getting things right have the ability to play a leadership role.

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Justinth

Luke

Is any consideration being given to using the lessons and template built for this project for a similar project on WW2 servicemen and women?

I know that there will be no funding for this at the moment (plus a few years ago there was http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar) but it would be a shame to wait until 2039.

Best

Justin

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Maureene

Some information about another brightsolid/findmypast project, which may, or may not be relevant to the IWM Lives of the Great War project

The British Library announced in March 2011 a partnership between the British Library and findmypast.co.uk (brightsolid) following a competitive tender process, to digitise five million pages of UK electoral registers and India Office records over the following year.

http://pressandpolicy.bl.uk/content/Detail.aspx?ReleaseID=1205&NewsAreaID=2

Initially the release date was expected to be February 2012. These records still have not been released. I am interested in the India Office records, so I am particularly aware that they are long overdue.

Cheers

Maureen

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Guest tartanbel

I too am interested in the 5 million pages promised, but not holding my breath for when they will be available.

My great uncle, John Campbell was killed at La Bassec on 15 June. 1916. Also I have a brass tray taken from the church at Salonika during WW1, by my great aunt who was a nurse. I would like to return this to the Island but have no idea who to contact. If anyone reads this and can suggest anything, I would be so grateful.

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Kate Wills

tartanbel,

The Salonika Campaign Society is interested in anything related to the campaign. Several members of the Forum are also members of the SCS, including its founder / chairman Alan Wakefield.

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E Wilcock

I am no longer sure where to post discussion about the IWM project.

I wonder if other members of the forum have encountered doubts about making personal family papers available on the web?

At a lunch party last week with friends whose fathers served in the First World war, I mentioned that the IWM was inviting contributions to a virtual museum and that I was thinking of putting my uncle's letters from the front on the Lives of the Great War site. I hoped that they might also contribute their family letters and diaries.

But the response was very different. The view was expressed that letters home were not intended by the writers for publication and that references to other family and friends was sensitive material and should be kept private within families.

I wondered whether there would be such a strong objection, if I had proposed depositing the letters themselves in the archive?

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John_Hartley

Interesting response from your friends. I've not come across such reticience before - but then perhaps we amateur researchers are only ever contacted by folk who want to share their information.

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Matthew_F

That’s an interesting response from your friends, it’s not one I’ve encountered previously myself but I imagine there may be others with similar reservations. Whether to contribute family letters and diaries is of course entirely at the discretion of the family members who hold those items in their collection, and I can appreciate that some people would have reservations with contributing these.

While such items from family collections are really useful in helping to tell the life stories of individuals, there are plenty of other ways that people with relatives who fought in the First World War can contribute without having to upload such letters or diaries. They can still help us to connect public records to life stories within the site. Similarly, there might be facts they can draw out from the letters without having to upload these directly, or they could form a useful starting point for their own research which they can continue in Lives of the First World War.

Matthew

IWM

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E Wilcock

When reporting on my previous high failure rate attempting to identify men who served in the 5th Rugby battery of 4th South Midland Brigade, I may have been too pessimistic.

It is now possible to search medal cards on ancestry using the service number and unit, omitting the surname in searches. taking a very small test group, I have now obtained forenames for a number of the people whom I failed with 5 years ago.

At the same time, I have collected a number of variations in both spelling of surnames and in the initials. Based on the correct service number and unit, one must make a presumption that one has the same individual.

Most genealogy software allows an individual to be listed under a variety of names to allow for legal changes of name and one may hope that computer design behind the Lives of the GW website will also allow this and allow contributors to explain the reasons behind their identifications.

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Langdon

I'm new to this interesting discussion but your last two paras strike a note with me. I've just shelled out £30 to the MOD because my Grandfather's records have a P code - so are being held by the MOD due to 'possible correspondence between them going past 1922'. Hardly national security.. Whereas his younger brother KIA has a fully accessible file.

Mike

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Langdon

Sorry, E Wilcox, I was replying to your post of May 17 but it seems to have jumped back to December. I'm new and will try to get the hang of this.

Mike

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Keith_history_buff

Some of the crowdsourced info is now appearing as a FMP dataset.

At present, you cannot use the free PDM platform to search on birth dates for an individual, but you can perform this via the FMP search, if you are a subscriber. Images are appearing, and are now showing "Copyright FMP".

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