Regional Mentor for Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, Helen Bainbridge, talks about keeping busy in the current climate.
We are certainly living in interesting and somewhat strange times! I am currently writing from home and rather than working two whole days I am working four half days, which means I actually do have some free time...
I thought to myself, as a mentor of the More than Oliver Twist project at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, that if I have free time, then so must others and what could we do? It suddenly struck me that there must be others out there who have already have access to commercial genealogy databases who would like a challenge and what better than to ask them to help us with the More than Oliver Twist project.
However, my first plan of action in putting this thought it to practice was to actually check up on our current volunteers to make sure they were okay. Once they had all replied I devised a cunning plan to reach as many people as possible, be they local or much further afield. If this project was to go completely ‘remote’, then it wouldn’t matter where they lived. Although it would be really nice at some stage, for any volunteers we do attract to be able to visit the museum if they wish to. Something to obviously plan for the future, she says crossing all fingers.
The plan, devised with the Curator of the museum, was to write a short request for volunteers and to use Facebook history groups and Twitter as the means of attracting interest. People were very quick to respond, in fact they were so quick that I had not yet finished my ‘introduction to the More than Oliver Twist project email’ which introduced them to the workhousenetwork.org and ehive.com. In this way potential volunteers could see what we have been up to and, just as importantly, what their research would add to our project. I am very pleased to say that out of 33 enquires, 23 decided that they would like to give it a go and there are still enquiries being made.
This is a both an exciting and brilliant development to our way of working, although somewhat challenging. Over the last couple of weeks I have managed to create instructional emails, summarising what is held on the workhouse network project website and some have even managed to complete their first few allocations and created inmate biographies!
Referencing, as always, causes some problems, but everyone seems to understand the reasons behind it and I actually think as most are experienced family history researchers they are aware of the importance of being able to re-find your sources again should you need to.
The biggest challenge I have found has been co-ordinating the search of sources that are solely accessible in records held at Gressenhall; the MH 12 Poor Law Correspondence records from the National Archives and the transcriptions of the minute books from Norfolk Record Office. However, the Curator has managed to ensure that I have access to some copies via her, as needed. Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure that the volunteers could access as much as possible, so not only did I send them a copy of the originally devised help sheet, but provided them with an additional email providing links to as many sources as possible that are available online.
The Curator, in anticipation of ensuring everyone’s well-being, has developed a closed Facebook research group and has also invited them to join the staff and volunteer Gressenhall community page, where posts are made encouraging us to share activities, events and news from across the digital world.
Things seem to be working well and the research being undertaken is brilliant. There are new things being learnt every day by both those new to the ‘stories’ that workhouse documents can reveal and by us ‘more seasoned workhouse researchers’ as the stories themselves develop. I have also had the pleasure of ‘virtually’ meeting some brilliant researchers who are bringing their own skills and knowledge with them!