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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday October 31, 2012

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

Public urged to contribute to online WW1 archive

As Remembrance Day approaches people urged to share WW1 letters, photos, diaries or recordings

The public is being asked if they have a box hidden deep in the attic or under the bed that holds a great grandfather's diaries from 1914-1918? His army medals? Or a photo with a special story behind it? If so, it could be part of a unique European WW1 project, shared worldwide to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war.

Oxford University, the British Library and JISC have joined forces with Europeana - Europe's digital museum, library and archive - to gather and tell personal stories from 1914-1918 that will contribute to building an important online European archive of family memorabilia from WW1.

Each individual story - that otherwise might never be told outside of the family - is essential to creating a unique European archive and perspective of WW1. Through this archive, stories from countries across Europe will be shared online, accessed by others worldwide and saved for future generations.

The online nature of the project means that anyone can share their stories and memorabilia through the Europeana 1914-1918 website, which gives advice on how to can scan, photograph and upload material at home.

Europeana is also running a series of Roadshows across Europe as the centenary approaches. This includes one in Banbury in Oxfordshire the week before Remembrance Day this year in conjunction with Oxford University, JISC and the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum.

Families are urged to bring photographs, letters, diaries, film or audio recordings, together with the stories of who they belonged to and why they are important to their families to the Europeana 1914-1918 Family History Roadshow at Banbury Museum on 3 November.

Historians and experts from the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, the Western Front Association and Oxford Museum Services will be on hand to talk about the significance of finds, while staff from Oxford University IT Services and the British Library will professionally digitise the objects and upload them to the dedicated website on the spot.

Untold and extraordinary real-life stories from World War 1 - from life-saving bibles to first-hand accounts of the Battle of the Somme - have already come to light and been shared online as a result of family history roadshows across Europe. And the hope is that the people in the UK can add to this European perspective.

Many people hope Europeana can help fill the gaps in their family stories. Fourteen-year-old Chloe Coules was the youngest ever member of the British Legion and is keen to find out more about her great-great-grandfathers Lawrence Hyde and William John Mills whose medals she has. Chloe said:

'One of my great-great-grandfathers, Lawrence Hyde, must have been courageous and daring, because he lied about his age to join the 17th Lancers, or the 'Death or Glory Boys', at the age of 15. He was at a very similar age to me and it shocks me to think that someone could have fought in a war when so young.'

Digitisation saves precious memorabilia from being lost or thrown away - and it keeps them safe for future use by schools, genealogists, cultural organisations and historians.

Kevin Northover plans to share a unique letter sent from his great-uncle Will Goldsmith in action in France and written on a piece of WW1 fighter plane that had been shot down by his regiment. Kevin said:

'It is incredible to think that such a remarkable but personal letter, handwritten by my great uncle Will nearly one hundred years ago, could potentially be read by millions of people online as a result of today's technology and the Europeana WW1 project.'

Jill Cousins, Europeana's executive director, said:

'Memorabilia and stories are kept by families. They are hidden archives containing very personal stories of great historical significance.
'That's why our online archive, which is collecting material from across Europe in a series of roadshows, is so important. Europeana brings a new approach to cultural history, linking people's own stories to the official histories and showing the many-sided views of the same slice of history.
'We want to encourage people to create their collective memory of a war that affected the everyday lives of virtually all Europeans, no matter which side they were on.'

Oxford University, the creators of the original idea for these WW1 collection days, is providing professional expertise to Europeana 1914-1918.

Deputy CIO of Oxford University IT Services, Dr Stuart Lee, said:

'The Europeana project has successfully unearthed hidden treasures held by members of the public that add further to our knowledge of the war, demonstrating how the new technologies can release such resources and engage the public in University research. Visiting Banbury will allow us to explore in depth the effect on one area of the country and we hope that people who cannot make the day and have material related to the Banbury area would contribute online.'

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For further information or images please contact Pandora George at Bullet PR
01273 775520
+44 207 412 7113

Family History Roadshow, 3 November, 2012 10.00am - 4.30pm
Banbury Museum
Spiceball Park Road
OX16 2PQ

01295 753752

Notes for editors

Europeana is Europe's digital library, archive and museum.

The Europeana 1914-1918 project , set up with Oxford University IT Services, will provide unique new resources for education, exhibitions, applications and services that are created to support remembrance of World War One and its effect on people's lives.

Many local libraries and museums do the work of organising and running the roadshows; Banbury Museum and the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Trust are key local partners in organising the Banbury roadshow.

To date, 15 roadshows have taken place across Germany, the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Denmark. In the run-up to the WW1 centenary, Europeana is working with partners in Belgium, Italy, France, Switzerland, Romania, Poland and Austria. So far, 2,000 people of all ages from across Europe have attended the roadshows to share family stories.

Roadshow participants have been joined by online contributors and 45,000 photos of objects related to WW1 have been uploaded to the Europeana 1914-1918 website. All material collected by the project is channelled into Europeana. These family stories complement the national narratives being digitised by national and state libraries for the centenary as part of Europeana Collections 1914-1918.

Oxford University IT Services
Oxford University began the WW1 family history initiative when it asked people across Britain to bring letters, photographs and keepsakes from the war to be digitised in 2006. This pilot project was funded by JISC, the UK educational technology innovator. Its success encouraged Europeana to approach Oxford to form a partnership to roll out the scheme across Europe.

Oxford University IT Services provide training, equipment, digitisation and cataloguing expertise during the roadshow events across Europe.

The British Library
The British Library is a lead player in Europeana Collections 1914-1918, a three year project to digitise more than 400,000 items from national libraries in eight countries across Europe that found themselves on different sides of the conflict. The Library is also sending curatorial and cataloguing staff to the roadshow event to work alongside Oxford University colleagues in Banbury.

JISC inspires UK colleges and universities in the innovative use of digital technologies, helping to maintain the UK's position as a global leader in education. JISC's work for the commemoration is focused on giving students, teachers and researchers in higher and further education access to a wealth of unique and authoritative digital resources that can be used and re-used to inspire research and teaching. This event will potentially 'unlock' resources of huge educational potential which have previously been kept in the nation's attics and drawers, so that we can increase our insight around the war and its legacy.

Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum was established in 2000 to find a permanent home for the archives and collections of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, The Oxfordshire Yeomanry and the Oxford University Officers Training Corps, whilst also being a museum of conflict and county. After several successful exhibitions including 'Children and War', work on a new building including a research centre began in August 2012 at the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. It is expected to open to the public in October 2013.

Banbury Museum
Banbury Museum opened in 2002, and is situated in an attractive town centre and waterside location. The iconic modern building displays local history collections and hosts touring exhibitions. The Museum offers a family friendly approach, with a busy programme of activities and events for all ages.