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Does anyone know why the officers long papers are not digitised?


Justinth
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Hi All

It seems strange with all of the digitisation taking place in connection with the centenary that the officers long papers in the National Archives have not been digitised.

You would think that either Find My Past or Ancestry (Ancestry seem to add less new record sets nowadays than FMP) would be interested in doing this.

Apart from cost can anyone think of any reasons why this isn't being done? Or perhaps a request for tenders/proposals for this work has been put out by the National Archives and I am not aware of it.

Best

Justin

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Justin,

A request was put out at about the same time as the request for tender on the o/r service papers and WO97s.

I've heard a rumour that the 'usual suspects' looked at it but given the variable nature and length of the files they didn't bite- not enough 'bang for the buck'. With the O/R service files already being on microfilm it was easier for them to reproduce those images even though the content was diverse. Hopefully someone more in the know can confirm or refute?

I suspect Ancestry are very busy with the WW1 medal rolls right now (assuming it's they who have that contract). They've done a reasonable job on the SWB rolls.

Perhaps some kind benefactor, Lord Ashcroft perhaps, could front the costs of digitization of the Officer files?

Matthew

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Hi All

It seems strange with all of the digitisation taking place in connection with the centenary that the officers long papers in the National Archives have not been digitised.

You would think that either Find My Past or Ancestry (Ancestry seem to add less new record sets nowadays than FMP) would be interested in doing this.

Apart from cost can anyone think of any reasons why this isn't being done? Or perhaps a request for tenders/proposals for this work has been put out by the National Archives and I am not aware of it.

Best

Justin

The sheer quantity of the officers records would make digitisation very expensive - my grandfather's service record in WO339 is over 50 pages -he was wounded three times which generated quite a few medical reports etc, so it may be a bit larger than most, but plenty are longer, and there are several hundred thousand officers records in the National Archives.

William

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Thank you Matthew and William

It is interesting to know that a request for tenders was probably put out and did not attract the attention of the online genealogy companies.

Over the years I have looked at a few of the long papers and seen the diversity you have both mentioned (plus the potential costs in digitising large files). I am sure that they would have been digitised long ago if they had already been microfilmed.

According to the greatwar.co.uk 'The Service Records of officers who served in the First World War, and which have survived to date, number approximately 217,700.'

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/research/military-records/british-officers-ww1-service-records.htm

It seems sad that the officers are partly left out of the explosion of online content for the centenary. Various ideas go through my mind from Familysearch to the Heritage Lottery Fund to funding the scanning of the images, with maybe the indexing taking place through crowdsourcing/volunteers. Ultimately though, and it pains me to say it the best solution would be for one of the big genealogy companies to do this. They have the infrastructure and expertise. I know that some historians and others who work or advise these companies sometimes use this forum, how about looking again at these papers?

Regards

Justin

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There are 139,916 files in WO 339 and 77,861 in WO 374. So that is a lot of digitising.

I also see 2 main problems with the records:

1. They are not a "standard" form. There are lots of little handwritten notes of varying sizes, sometimes birth certificates and normal sized Army forms. To digitise those would require a lot of manual adjustment of the equipment for each page in a file adding a lot to the expense.

2. They usually don't offer a lot of value to genealogists. Unless an officer was commissioned from the ranks, various 'weeding' programmes over the years has removed most information of military or family history value. A lot of the ones I have seen contain little more than the bean counters dealing with overpayments, pensions or other monetary, health and pension or legal issues. ORs who were commissioned will normally have their original attestation papers which are of value.

It pains me to say it but I don't see them being digitised for a while yet. Personally, I'd much rather see some movement in the release of ORs records for men who stayed on immediately post-war until around, say, 1925.

Glen

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Hi Glen

I agree on papers of officers promoted from the ranks, in three cases in recent years they have been a godsend as they had the original attestation forms etc on them. On the files of officers who were commissioned from the beginning I have found some of the detail absolutely relevatory as well, for example revealing that one officer I was looking at had essentially been unfit for the front line and some of the pressure he had put on his son was a bit hypocritical.

I totally agree on the need to get moving on the release of records of ORs serving after 1922. As I have said elsewhere, the way data protection is being applied here (I know that they agreed on the release of such papers for soldiers born 1895 or before but this still hasn't happened) is totally at odds with the approach for example to records on POWs from WW2, where masses of personal data from the time is available on the soldiers who were captured along with the names of the camps/escape attempts etc on the MI9 forms.

Anyway, fingers crossed that they get round to both.

Best

Justin

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The W.O. files of officers who served on after 1922 are also still with the M. o. D., even though those concerned have been dead for many years. I believe there is an intention to move these to T.N.A., but last time I enquired no date had been set.

Michael

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The W.O. files of officers who served on after 1922 are also still with the M. o. D., even though those concerned have been dead for many years. I believe there is an intention to move these to T.N.A., but last time I enquired no date had been set.

Michael

Perhaps the centenary will move things along (hopefully).

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There are 139,916 files in WO 339 and 77,861 in WO 374. So that is a lot of digitising.

I also see 2 main problems with the records:

1. They are not a "standard" form. There are lots of little handwritten notes of varying sizes, sometimes birth certificates and normal sized Army forms. To digitise those would require a lot of manual adjustment of the equipment for each page in a file adding a lot to the expense.

2. They usually don't offer a lot of value to genealogists. Unless an officer was commissioned from the ranks, various 'weeding' programmes over the years has removed most information of military or family history value. A lot of the ones I have seen contain little more than the bean counters dealing with overpayments, pensions or other monetary, health and pension or legal issues. ORs who were commissioned will normally have their original attestation papers which are of value.

I think the only thing that has held back the digitising of the files is the sheer size of the project. The officers' file in WO339 and WO374 are virtually identical in form to the nurses' service records in WO399. There are just 16,000 of those and they were digitised about three years ago now. They contain a vast range of forms, letters, and bits and pieces of every size imaginable, including original BMD certificates and even dog-tags and range in size from about twenty pages to more than two hundred and fifty. As far as I know they were done as a TNA 'in-house' project (David will know) and a very good job indeed has been made of them.

Surprisingly, they are very good value for family history, despite the heavy weeding, and often provide great insights into relatives and next of kin, family addresses, and occupational history - the only source of some of this information that survives. In the absence of so much administrative and organisational information that has been lost in the past, they also provide the professional researcher a unique way to pick up tiny snippets of information that are unavailable elsewhere. There are always gems to be found, and I look on it as slowly piecing together a million piece jigsaw. No one file offers a great deal, but if you can look at enough, together they begin to give a wonderful overall picture.

But 16,000 is rather different to more than 200,000, and quantity surely the fly in the ointment.

Sue

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Many of us are unable to visit The National Archives in person but we can request a file be scanned. However, the cost of obtaining a pdf of an officer's file is usually prohibitive. I've been quoted nearly 200 pounds for one file. I don't know how many pages were in it but as the officer was killed in 1914 probably not many. If Ancestry or the now dreadful Find My Past could make them available it be a great help even if we had to pay extra to retrieve them.

Ann

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Ann

It is a shame that the digitisation (and photocopying) costs at the National Archives are so ridiculously high. There is always the alternative of hiring a researcher. It does make me wonder whether there might be an opportunity for volunteer involvement in digitisation of the Officers' records at the National Archives after the remaining work on the War Diaries. I have used the sort of machine that I think is used to produce high quality digitisation at the British Library and it is not difficult to use.

Even if it is was done slowly, it would be better than nothing (although still the preferred alternative is for Ancestry/FMP etc to do this). I am sure that someone who has been involved or is involved in volunteering to help sort out the War Diaries for scanning may have something to say about this idea.

Best

Justin

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I think until you visit TNA and make that step across from the banks of computers with the "online" information that is freely available to the Reading Room to view orginal documents, you don't realise the enormity and quantity of the records that just aren't and possibly will never be digitised. Being mainly a family historian with strong Naval connections I have spent hours just going through boxes and boxes of letters, log books and pay documents of sailors. It's a mind blowing experience that as I come away from a day I find myself saying that I will never ever get a fraction of what is to offer, and that there "must be stuff" that I have missed about my particular avenue of research.

I have just dipped my toes into researching some of the WW1 men who are related to my family, and have also looked at an officer's file (who had been promoted from the ranks) and there were pages and pages of what to my eyes looked like repitition, sick board after sick board, leading after three years to his retirement. Useful for a family historian as it proved where and when he was living, and had some nice touches of his own letter writing. And evidence of Civil Service procrastrination!

It must be difficult for TNA to prioritise what or what no to digitise, and given that there must be many wishing for their own "era", that the companies that do provide on line will as has been said "cherry pick" the easiest and profitable.

Just my thoughts....

Anne

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One of the major issues is the sheer quantity of waht effectively medical records in the files (this is also part of the complication with some of the other army records not yet transferred). Much of this information would now be treated as being closed for 100 years from the date that record was created (ie 100 years from the date of a medical baord for instance). I've examined files which have complete temperature charts and similar in. It's one thing to have these open for consultation in the reading room, but putting them online is a different matter altogether. Yes, much similar material is available in the ORs' papers, but rules have changed over time - if they hadn't been digitised when they were similar considerations would now apply.

Individual file copying requests are high because there are no economies of scale, the file has to be retrieved individually, and you are effectively charged for the staff time taken to retrieve and copy it (plus checking the images and so on) - all TNA fees are on a cost recovery basis.

Another thing to remember about prioritisation of digitisation work is that Public Records are basically not allowed to leave The National Archives (tehre are exceptions, government departments can recall their own documents to some extent, and records may occasionally be loaned for museum displays and the like). This means that all digitisation has to take place onsite, even if being carried out by third parties, which obviously imposes space (and therefore throughput) restrictions. In additiona to the family history type digitisations, there are usually projects with academic funding and the like going on too. The minutes and meeting papers of the User Forum http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/get-involved/user-forum.htm and User Advisory Group http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/get-involved/user-advisory-group.htm often have updates on digitisation projects, Licensing Opportunities is where new commercial packages are put out to tender http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/commercial/licensing-opportunities.htm (and you can see some fo the history there too, but for earlier things you'll need to look at the versions of the page in the UK Government Web Archive http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive/ - eg this http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20060715231659/http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/business/popular_records.htm appears to be the earliest that WO 339 long number papers were suggested as a digitisation opportunity, note that WO 374 is not included)

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Over the last three years my business carried out a project for a university (which I cannot name), in which they required us to obtain copies of several hundred officers records. We did it by photographing them all. It gave us a very good, broad spectrum view of what the records contain and their value for family or military researchers. I have to say, based on what we saw in those records, that digitisation would be a long process for, in general, little added value. There is also a surprisingly high level of absence; records missing that you would expect to be there. Of course, if it is the one record you want then the value to you could be high, but overall the records have been so stripped-out that their value is limited. There are many other series of documents at TNA that would be better candidates for digitisation.

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I have had officers papers copied. The photocopies are very dark &sometimes difficult to read.

Would this make filming difficult?

I have found some interesting information such as confusion with names and the wrong family being informed of the officer's death.

Kath.

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Dear All

It is education reading this thread. It seems as ever with research that it is looking for the little nugget of gold amongst the rest of the information when approaching the officers long papers (I agree about the repetition and the seemingly random weeding of the files), but I have still still found little useful nuggets of information that have added to my research. Some have been military, others have been of more genealogical or family interest, whilst others have been more useful in understanding the strictly military context of the individual.

On the issue of digitising other record series I know there are representatives of readers (plus the Friends of the National Archive) whose job is to represent the users/readers of the National Archive and I did some years ago suggest in an online feedback form that the National Archives ask users (maybe via electronic means) which records they would like to see digitised, but didn't get any response (I suspect one amongst many many comments and easily lost in the noise).

Best

Justin

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Good Afternoon Everyone,

This week I received a quotation for copies of an officers service record - £243.00 - I just wonder how much information I will be missing out on.

Derek.

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On the issue of digitising other record series I know there are representatives of readers (plus the Friends of the National Archive) whose job is to represent the users/readers of the National Archive and I did some years ago suggest in an online feedback form suggest that the National Archives ask users (maybe via electronic means) which records they would like to see digitised, but didn't get any response (I suspect one amongst many many comments and easily lost in the noise).

Justin,

The two main avenues are the User Forum (which anyone can attend) and the User Advisory Group which I mentioned (and linked to) above. There is also now an online forum https://community.nationalarchives.gov.uk/. The Friends have been having a membership drive recently, and have just passed 1000 members - more welcome of course.

There are a huge range of factors in deciding what to digitise, ordering statistics are taken into account, if something's popular in the reading rooms it's likely to be popular online too (and of course digitisation helps to protect the physical documents from heavy use and consequent damage). But of course there are a huge range of variables, the physical condition of the material, and its variability of size and shape. Academics will have differing priorities to family historians, and they may be able to obtain grants from funding boards which obviously helps.

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Whilst the surviving papers in these files, especially of dead officers, can be disappointing, tending towards the repetitious and the financial (e.g. issues around the estates of dead officers), there can be some very interesting material on some including : disciplinary records around officers who lost their commissions; reports on graduating officer cadets; correspondence on the circumstances in which officers missing believed killed disappeared;and reports from returning POWs on the circumstances of their capture.

Michael

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  • 7 years later...

I have been told that a large amount of papers are available at the TNA to a soldier and Officer a grand total of 164 pages

they have sent me a very hefty charge to copy all the pages, but I am concerned that I may not need all

I was just hoping to find his pre war and WW1 papers as he was commissiondfrom the ranks in 1918 and left in 1921 so the best part of

25 years service.

Question is do I take the chance and pay the money and see what they send

PHILIP

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