London Metropolitan Archives invited representatives of the London genealogy community to attend its first Family History Forum at the archive on 20 April 2011. This was attended by the Genealogist from the Society of Genealogists, and representatives from the Federation of Family History Societies, North West Kent FHS, London, Westminster and Middlesex FHS, East Surrey FHS, and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. The meeting was chaired by Deborah Jenkins (Assistant Director: Heritage).
A lot has happened in the London archive community recently with the Guildhall Library, Archives and Art Gallery having been amalgamated with the London Metropolitan Archives bringing effective control of 3 services under the Corporation of London. The recent partnership with Ancestry.co.uk to digitise records sets of genealogical, social and local significance has very much changed the nature of the service provided by the archives. The forum was called to update the family history community on issues affecting LMA.
Sadly, though perhaps inevitably in the current climate, the first item on the agenda was a statement by David Pearson (Director: Libraries, Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery Department) about the requirement for the department to make savings of 15.9% in its budget for 2011-12. Having been consulting users via the LMA website and drop in meetings since March the department is now pretty much ready to decide how it will make these savings. Yes it will mean reduced opening hours, fewer Saturday openings and compulsory redundancies amongst the staff.
As this procedure is still in process we have no news yet of how much expertise or resource will be lost from the archive and this must clearly be unsettling for staff. The new online catalogue has meant a 30% increase in the number of document ordered and delivered at the archive (some76,000 over the year with nearly 90% of them delivered within 20 minutes). There were 29,000 visitors – all be it 6% drop on the previous year. It will be interesting to see how after the cuts LMA can continue to provide services to such numbers or continue to receive the high satisfaction feed back it currently receives via user surveys or its leading 4* position under TNA’s archive assessment scheme.
Essentially LMA will close on Fridays and will be open only one Saturday a month. This will take place from November after the stock taking week, having given a suitable period for notice etc for staff. To compensate in some way for this LMA will be introducing longer opening hours on Wednesdays making late night opening to 7.30pm on Tuesday -Thursdays. A significant number of people had asked LMA not to close on the same day as other major repositories. (Both TNA and SoG are closed on Mondays) making it possible to do some research at least in London on this day. The number of researchers on Saturdays has been falling dramatically and it will be reviewed in a year whether to continue to open on Saturday. So this means if you want LMA to remain open on Saturdays it’s a case of use it or lose it.
Charlotte Shaw (Head of Collections and Systems) provided an overview on the last two years partnership with Ancestry.co.uk to digitise and make available significant LMA collections. Phase one of the project is progressing steadily with C of E parish registers, Board of Guardian Records, School and Nonconformist registers having come on stream. In the next few months the diocesan wills formerly held in LMA and Guildhall will be online and indexed with electoral registers up to 1965 and City of London Freedom records to follow.
Stage two of the project is seeing negotiations with the various city livery companies to allow the deposited records from the Guildhall to be digitised and made available. This will not include those livery company records retained by the companies themselves. 2012 will see the inclusion of the City & Tower Hamlets Cemetery records and some Session Records.
Questions were raised about omissions in the digitised records and misattributions. It was made clear that some older films NOT created by LMA itself were OMMITTED from the Ancestry project as they were not of suitable quality. Also films were digitised only when LMA had copies of the original records and permission from the authorities for their use. LMA seemed unaware of the problems of the mis-attribution of some of the sources supposedly included by Ancestry.co.uk. The SoG Genealogist promised to provide a link to some comments on this information.
Miriam Silverman (Ancestry: UK Content Manager) followed up with more information about the future projects. Ancestry’s scanners continue to process records at LMA. They are currently working on the Guildhall and LMA Collections of Poll Books and the Overseas Returns. The London wills number nearer 400,000 which a much larger number than had initially been thought to exist. A broader spectrum of records will include parish confirmations, Middlesex transported convict records, Surrey Marriage Bonds and Allegations, London Land Tax and London Poll books though they will also be including the Guildhall’s copies of poll books for places outside London. It is hoped that most of the records will be indexed with a pilot of the early poor law records under way through Ancestry’s World Archives Projects that allows volunteers at home to index images of the records made available to the community.
There was discussion about the updating and improvements made to any mistakes or omissions in the indexing or transcription of records. Work is being done to identify and amend any problems across collections in addition to using the correction and amendment procedures already made available to users of the Ancestry site. Essentially any one who has discovered errors and problems should let LMA and Ancestry know about it.
Nicola Avery (Principal Archivist, Archives Systems) provided a list of some of the new accessions recently acquired by LMA. Some of which were made available to view in the conservation room after the meeting. These include records for several churches and religious institutions, a copy of a missing interment register for Darenth Assylum and an accumulated register of the City of London School 19000-1920. LMA is currently negotiating the deposit of the registers of All Hallows Barking by the Tower – one of the last 2 city parishes to deposit its records.
In addition to some of the statistics mentioned above Tim Harris (Head of Access and Buildings) reported on issues relating to the physical care of the building. One significant point to note is that a service lift is to be refurbished between November and December which will affect the production of records. If anything it might be better to avoid making a visit in this period and certainly give lots of notice using the advanced ordering facility on the online catalogue. One interesting point to note from the results of the user survey is that for the first time the percentage of users reporting their interest as genealogical was down to 60% with 40% saying they had other reasons for using the record office.
The next meeting of the LMA User forum will be in September. In the meantime anyone interested in receiving information about new and events from LMA can sign up for the electronic newsletter