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2 minutes to read Posted on Friday October 17, 2014

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

Saving Forgotten WW1 Family Stories

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The Royal Library of Belgium and Europeana have today launched a unique European WW1 project to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war, at a press conference at The Royal Library in Brussels.

Just over 100 years ago, on 20 August 1914, war reached the capital. On 17 August, the government, diplomats and top administration fled to Antwerp. Shortly afterwards, the home guard was ordered to remove all the road blocks as fast as possible. Four years of harsh occupation, famine and fear for the people of the capital begin. ‘We have the feeling of being cut off from the world and being exposed to danger with no defence and at the mercy of the enemy', Stijn Streuvels wrote of the period.

The Royal Library of Belgium has joined forces with Europeana 1914-1918 to keep the stories of the people in Brussels of the ‘Great War' alive and to share them with the general public. The two organisations announced that Europeana 1914-1918, the most important pan European online resource of original WW1 source material, is bringing its collection days back to Belgium. They will together collect and share online Belgian family stories from the Great War. Now is the time for the people of Brussels to come forward with their memories and family items.

During collection days at the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels, on 24-25 October and 5-6 December, experts will gather and digitise people's family stories from The First World War so they can be shared worldwide, and saved for future generations. Those who can't make it to the collection days can still share their story online via

Europeana 1914-1918 brings together personal stories from the battlefield and the home front that perhaps haven't been told outside the family before, alongside the official and national narrative.


Through, these important personal stories and memorabilia from families across Europe can now take their place alongside WW1 collections from national European libraries including The Royal Library of Brussels. In total, ten national and university libraries from Great Britain, Denmark, Italy, France, Austria, Serbia and Belgium united under the coordination of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin in 2011 with one ambition: to make the rich and unique collections from these European countries relating to the First World War accessible online at Now the personal stories of families from Brussels will also join them.

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 Royal Library of Belgium on the WW1 collection days in Brussels. Through our collection days, the grandchildren and 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.'

Frederic Lemmers of the Royal Library of Belgium said: ‘It is a great opportunity to share history with others. Stories are passed down in families but sometimes lost. Through Europeana, those stories are not only saved for future generations, but find their place in Europe's shared history, making the past relevant today. In light of its 100 year anniversary, this is a useful way of remembering The First World War.'

In 2012, Europeana 1914-1918 has held successful collection days at Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. From the battlefront region of Ypres, Europeana 1914-1918 is now coming to Brussels where it has a special relationship with the Royal Library of Belgium. In November 2008 was launched and officially inaugurated at the Royal Library of Belgium, in the presence of José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission.

And reflecting Brussels' special place at the heart of Europe, Members of the European Parliament will also be able to contribute their own family stories to Europeana 1914-1918. With the support of the Royal Library, Europeana will hold collection days for MEPs as part of a special event at the European Parliament in December to commemorate not only the centenary of WW1 but also the 25th anniversary of 1989 and the fall of the Iron curtain.

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Contact: For further information or images please contact Lauren Heeffer, +32 494 87 38 12

Notes for editors

Europeana and Europeana 1914-1918: Europeana is Europe's digital platform for cultural heritage, which collects and provides online access to more than 30 million digitised items from libraries, archives, audio-visual collections and museums across Europe.

The Europeana 1914-1918 project is the most important online resource of original WW1 source material. Building on an idea from, and with the support of Oxford University, 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 16 countries across Europe, in the lead up to the WW1 centenary commemoration and so far have recorded more than 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.