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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday September 17, 2014

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

Saving Forgotten WW1 Family Stories

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The British Library has joined forces with Europeana. We will be working together to gather and tell people’s family stories from 1914-1918. These valuable stories will then be shared via Europeana’s online archive, the most important online resource of original WW1 source material, featuring contributions from families across Europe and institutions across the globe. Europeana can be found at

We are calling for people to bring photographs, letters, diaries, film or audio recordings, together with the stories of whom they belonged to and why they are important to their families, to the Europeana 1914-1918 Family History Roadshow at the British Library, Boston Spa on Saturday, August 2.

British Library COO Phil Spence uncovered a fascinating book belonging to his grandfather, The Chronicles of Cliveden. His grandfather, who died before Phil was born, volunteered for the ‘Hull Pals’ 10th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment after training as a school teacher in York. He served in Egypt, France and Belgium, but was badly injured at the battle of Oppy Wood. He survived in a shell hole with one leg mostly missing until he was found during a cease-fire two days later. He then spent two years recovering at the Duchess of Connaught Canadian Military Hospital at Cliveden, where he collected this series of the Chronicles of Cliveden, a newspaper produced by the patients. He embroidered a cover for this collection as part of his recuperation, and the family has now donated the Chronicles to the Library. It has been digitised as one of the many ‘trench journals’ the library has contributed to Europeana 1914-1918.

On the Europeana roadshow day itself, historians and experts from the York Museums Trust, Lancaster University and local history societies will be on hand to talk about the significance of finds, while staff from the British Library will professionally digitise the objects which will be uploaded to the dedicated Europeana 1914-1918 website.

Europeana has been holding Family History Roadshows in more than 20 countries across Europe in the lead up to the WW1 Centenary, digitising almost 100,000 images of family memorabilia to sit alongside national WW1 collections. Each individual story - that otherwise might never be told outside of the family - is essential to creating a unique global 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 British Library has led the UK’s contribution to Europeana 1914-1918, as part of the First World War Centenary programme. They have created a brand new British Library First World War website with over 500 items from across Europe and articles by leading experts and teachers’ notes.

The British Library has digitised 10,000 items (more than 350,000 images) of a wide range of materials related to the First World War from its print collections. Personal diaries, trench maps, printed books, WW1 poetry, literary manuscripts, photographs and music scores are among the broad selection of the Library’s contribution, which can be found at

The idea for Europeana 1914-1918 was based on an initiative by the University of Oxford where people across Britain were asked to bring family letters, photographs and keepsakes from the War to be digitised.

Jill Cousins, Europeana’s executive director, said:
'With Europeana 1914-1918, we are piecing together a unique pan-European perspective of the Great War. Alongside the official records, stories, photographs and memorabilia from institutions such as museums, archives and galleries, we are asking the citizens of Europe to share their family stories and memories.

'Europeana is delighted to collaborate with the British Library on the WW1 family history roadshow at Boston Spa. Through our roadshows, the grandchildren, other family members and friends who inherited these memorabilia have the opportunity to share pieces of history that might otherwise just be collecting dust in their attics. And through digitisation, they can preserve them for future generations as records of a defining time in European history.'

Phil Spence, COO, The British Library, said:
'Many people in the region will have items connected with their family’s involvement in the Great War – passed down through the generations, but perhaps wanting to know more about what their full meaning and context was. ‘We’re delighted to be hosting Europeana 1914-18 World War One Family History Roadshow in our newly-refurbished Reading Room at Boston Spa, and giving people the opportunity to discover more about their own family history. By sharing the digitised items online – as the Library does with so many of its collections – we hope to add many more previously untold stories to our shared understanding of this momentous event in the region’s history.’

Visitors on the day will also have a chance to discover the British Library’s newly refurbished Boston Spa Reading Room, where you can consult the Library’s vast collection of research journals, books and periodicals, along with free access to more than 8 million pages of digitised historic newspapers. There will also be a range of WW1 themed activities, including local curator talks from experts at The Castle Museum, York, film screenings from the Yorkshire Film Archive.

If people aren’t able to get to the event in Boston Spa, the Europeana 1914-1918 website gives advice on how to can scan, photograph and upload material at home.

Family History Roadshow, 2 August, 2014 11.00am – 5.00pm
The British Library
Thorp Arch Trading Estate
Boston Spa
West Yorkshire
LS23 7BQ
+44 (0) 330 333 1144

A press conference announcing details of the Family History Roadshow was held at York Castle Museum on Tuesday July 22 at 11.30am. Case studies and interviews with Europeana and the British Library staff wereavailable on the day.

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For further information or images please contact Pandora George or Sarah Jackson at Bullet PR 01273 775520.

Notes for editors

Europeana and Europeana 1914-1918: Europeana is Europe’s most important pan European online resource for cultural heritage, which collects and provides access to digitised material from libraries, archives, audio-visual collections and museums.

The Europeana 1914-1918 project is the most important online resource of original WW1 source material. It was launched in Germany in 2011 to collect memorabilia and family stories from the front line and the home front. Since then, family history roadshows have been held in more than 20 countries across Europe, in the lead up to the WW1 commemoration and so far have recorded nearly 100,000 digital images. Throughout 2014, the year of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, the project continues to collect memorabilia in digital form and aims to save people’s family memories and make them accessible to the world. This could be photographs, letters, diaries, short films, audio recordings, objects and their stories that will be digitised professionally and added to the online archive, along with corresponding descriptions. Independently of the roadshows that take place across Europe, everyone can contribute their digitised images and information to the website - The site now also includes 400,000 items digitised by national libraries across Europe and 660 hours of film digitised by EFG14.

British Library

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection.

The British Library Reading Room at Boston Spa offers access to the Library’s vast collection of research journals, books and periodicals, along with free access to more than 8 million pages of digitised historic newspapers. It is freely available for use by students, researchers, entrepreneurs and lifelong learners:

York Castle Museum

The York Castle Museum was founded by Dr John Kirk, a doctor from Pickering, North Yorkshire, and houses his extraordinary collection of social history, reflecting everyday life in the county.

One of its renowned displays is the reconstructed street, Kirkgate, which has been hugely influential in museum displays worldwide. The York Castle Museum is housed in a former debtors’ prison and an adjoining former women’s prison, both of which are Grade I listed.

Current Exhibition: 1914: When the World Changed Forever

The terror of total war and its revolutionary impact on life around the world will be explored in this major new exhibition marking the centenary of the First World War.

From the pre-war golden age of peace and prosperity visitors will be sent to the recruitment office and then to the horrors of the frontline - from rats to foot rot, shell shock to gas warfare. Back home, daily life in Britain was changing beyond recognition while around the world millions would die as Europe's empires clashed in the first truly global conflict.

New research will be combined with the museum’s extensive military, costume and social history collections to tell the fascinating and often moving stories of the Yorkshire people who lived and died during the war that they said would end all wars.

The exhibition is the central part of a £1.7 million project at the museum, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Open daily: 9.30am-5pm
Admission: Adult: £ 9.50 Free entry for children under 16 and residents with a valid York Card.
01904 6887687

Heritage Lottery Fund and support for First World War heritage:

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 36,000 projects with more than £6bn across the UK.

Through its First World War: then and now programme, HLF is making at least £1million available per year for six years until 2019. It is providing grants between £3,000 and £10,000 enabling communities and groups right across the UK to explore, conserve and share their First World War heritage and deepen their understanding of the impact of the conflict. To find out how to apply for funding visit If a group needs a grant of more than £10,000 for a First World War project, it can apply to HLF through its open programmes