On Saturday I attended a day school at the Percival Guildhouse in Rugby. There were people learning to play the saxophone in the basement, French irregular verbs and astronomy were elsewhere and we were on the top floor – with “An Introduction to the National Archives – Kew”. 12 students and 3 (4 in the afternoon) members of Rugby Family History Group as tutors.
We also run a five-week course on the records at TNA, for members of Rugby Family History Group and anyone else interested, but this was a taster session on how to prepare for a visit. We had run the day school a couple of times before, so I thought that I wouldn’t have much preparation to do for my session “using the website”. I already had the Powerpoint presentation and notes.
Of course, shortly before the day school TNA announced that they were making changes to the website “over the next few months”. Should I change my presentation? Would it still be current on the day? Would it be any help to our students? In the end I decided I would do the session “live” and keep the original slide show in case we couldn’t get an internet connection.
I spent most of the day driving the laptop for other people’s presentations. We started with a session on where the TNA is, the layout of the building and how to get a reader’s ticket. We told the students they could take a pencil, but not a rubber, into the reading rooms. We also talked about how the records are arranged and the different classes. Did you know that if you print out a list of TNA classes, it runs to 27 A4 pages!
Next was my tour of the website – the connection worked, so I was able to look at specific subjects that interested the students. At the moment much of the website is unchanged; the only changes are the look of the home pages and the new drop down menu. The former I don’t like much – there are too many pretty pictures. If I am trying to find something – surely the main point of the website – I want to find it easily, not look at the view on the way. There are too many distractions and it is difficult to pick out what you want. On the other hand, the menu is fantastic (I am assuming that eventually it will be available on every page). Wherever you are, you can easily get somewhere else. A big advantage if you are giving a demonstration.
That said, I had trouble finding the first thing I wanted to demonstrate, the video guides. For anyone else looking for them, click Explore Our Records, scroll down to the bottom of the page to Understand The Records (which is also second on the list on the menu, under Records) and click on Start Here. I played the short animated guide to ordering documents.
I then ran through the research guides under Looking for a Person, Looking for a Place and Looking for a Subject. It always amazes me the amount of useful information to be found in the research guides. Not just general information about the subject, but exactly what records you can find at TNA and other places, with links, as well as advice for further reading in books or online. I then looked at the online records and how to order them and finished with the Discovery catalogue – how to search for and order the document you want. I then had to stop, as it was time for lunch.
After our jacket potatoes and salad (and perhaps a slice of homemade cake) and a brief break, we were back to the class. Each of the four tutors demonstrated various case studies – how they had used TNA records for their own family history research. There were Bankruptcy Records, Military Records and Railway Records. The latter is not an easy subject, and made more difficult by the fact that the tutor who had written them was away and they were read by someone else – we had great fun trying to co-ordinate speech and slides. For my session (maximum 15 minutes) I tried to show the range of different TNA documents I had used in my research into John Madder. This turned out to include Wills (PROB), State Papers (SP) and Treasury documents, including calendars (T). Ships Logs and Crew Lists (ADM), Chancery (C) and High Court of Admiralty (HCA) and High Court of Delegates (DEL). Knowing that I can run on for hours about John Madder, this demonstrated considerable restraint on my part!
After recovering with a cup of tea or coffee, we reached the final session, answering questions and helping students with their particular problems. Another intensive test of the TNA website, where I hope we managed to satisfy all the queries. Soon it was 4pm and we could relax. It appeared to have been a successful day and we got five more names on the list for the coach trip to Kew on 14th November. (There are still plenty of spaces, if anyone is interested).
And I had been given a chance to renew my acquaintance with the whole TNA website, instead of just going straight to the catalogue. No doubt it will have changed again by the next time I have to show others how to use it.
My final message is to the TNA webmaster(s). It’s a fantastic site – don’t mess it up too much.