Each month we look at the re­gional re­sources that can help you find your fore­bears This month, Jonathan Scott re­turns to Tyne & Wear to ex­plore the ar­chives that pre­serve the area’s ship­build­ing, coalmin­ing and industrial her­itage

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Tyne & Wear is formed of five dis­tinct bor­oughs that were once parts of Northum­ber­land and County Durham. As a re­sult, some ge­nealog­i­cal ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing orig­i­nal parish reg­is­ters, re­side at the re­spec­tive county record of­fices. How­ever, the Tyne & Wear Ar­chives in New­cas­tle not only holds mi­cro­film copies of parish reg­is­ters from through­out the area, mean­ing you won’t nec­es­sar­ily have to visit all three repos­i­to­ries dur­ing your re­search, but it also looks af­ter vast col­lec­tions that record the so­cial and industrial up­heaval of the Industrial Revo­lu­tion.

The Ar­chives and Dis­cov­ery Mu­seum are housed in what was once the head­quar­ters of the North East branch of the Co-op­er­a­tive Whole­sale So­ci­ety, founded in 1863, which even­tu­ally moved out in 1977.

Bland­ford House was taken over by the Mu­seum in 1981 and still has some grand fea­tures from an el­e­gant 1930s re­fur­bish­ment – an elab­o­rate stained glass win­dow at the en­trance to the AArchives,es, and some im­pres­sive lava­to­ries de­signed by lo­cal firm Adamsez – whose ar­chive is still pre­served here.

Since our last visit, the Ar­chive re­search room has been bol­stered by the in­stal­la­tion of the BFI Me­diatheque, a dig­i­tal juke­box of fi­film and TV fea­tur­ing many of the best, rarest and most ex­tra­or­di­nary ti­tles in the BFI Na­tional Ar­chive – all avail­able free of charge. The Me­diatheque also in­cludes mov­ing images from the North East Film Ar­chive ( north­east­fil­, it­self based at Teesside Uni­ver­sity, Mid­dles­brough.

Ar­chiv­ist Alan Hay­ward says: “It’s proved very popular. Not least be­cause the Me­diatheque is a good place for peo­ple whose pri­mary in­ter­est is not ge­neal­ogy… while they wait for part­ners do­ing their re­search. Plus, there’s lots of footage for lo­cal his­to­ri­ans in the films from the North East Film Ar­chive.”

Many records re­lat­ing to coal, heavy in­dus­try and ship­build­ing are housed by Tyne & Wear Ar­chives. Ship­build­ing in the area was ini­tially driven by the need for ves­sels to trans­port coal and by the 18th cen­tury both in­dus­tries dom­i­nated the River­side – Sun­der­land was rapidly be­com­ing the world’s largest ship­build­ing town.

How­ever, the ar­chives re­flect the fact that the peo­ple in charge of the ship­yards put a lot more ef­fort into record­ing the ships they built than the peo­ple who worked for them. “Some per­son­nel records do sur­vive,” Alan says, “but there were so many tran­sient work­ers who came and went. The records of the ships them­selves, though, are very de­tailed.”

The Ar­chive re­search room has been bol­stered by the in­stal­la­tion of the BFI Me­diatheque dig­i­tal juke­box

One use­ful source is the reg­is­ters of ap­pren­tice ship­builders, which are well used by re­searchers. Alan says that he also re­cently came across a Sun­der­land ship­yard wage book from 1801, re­veal­ing what was paid to the av­er­age worker. To see more ex­am­ples, you could try search­ing the on­line cat­a­logue for the Swan Hunter ship­builders ar­chive – com­pris­ing more than 11,000 records. One of the firm’s most fa­mous ves­sels was RMS

Mau­re­ta­nia, the world’s largest and fastest ship when she was launched in 1906.

This pat­tern is re­peated in many of the coalmin­ing records held here. One of the more use­ful ge­nealog­i­cal sources are records of the Northum­ber­land and Durham Min­ers Per­ma­nent Re­lief Fund Friendly So­ci­ety, es­tab­lished in 1862 fol­low­ing the Hart­ley Pit Dis­as­ter, for pro­vi­sion of re­lief

to min­ers and their fam­i­lies in cases of fa­tal ac­ci­dents or in­juries.

The records are largely unin­dexed so you will need to know the place where your an­ces­tor worked and when they were in­volved in an ac­ci­dent.

Although there haven’t been large-scale digi­ti­sa­tions since our last visit, there are plenty of de­vel­op­ments in the pipe­line – both on­line and in the search­room. For one, they are in­volved in the Na­tional Digi­ti­sa­tion Con­sor­tium drive to digi­tise pre-1914 school reg­is­ters. Alan re­ported that their own sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion from more thant 100 schools had re­cently le eft the build­ing for digi­ti­sa­tion. ItI is hoped that the reg­is­ters might ap­peara on­line some­time later this yeary ( find­my­ school-reg­is­ters).s

There’s also a busy team of vol­un­teersv who have com­piled an in ndex to po­lice ser­vice reg­is­ters, anda are cur­rently work­ing on churchc reg­is­ters, Ro­man Catholic bap­tismb reg­is­ters, and Poor Law ma­te­rialm in­clud­ing Boards of GuardiansG Min­utes. “Peo­ple tend notn to look at items like th­ese as it tak­est so long to work through – peo­plep are put off. Un­less you knowk a def­i­nite date al­ready then it t is very time-con­sum­ing. But withw an in­dex it makes life much eas­ier and should make the records much more popular.”

At the mo­ment, most of th­ese in­dexes are avail­able in hard copy on the Ar­chive shelves, but the long-term plan is to work with a com­mer­cial web­site and get th­ese and other sources ‘out there’.

Com­mer­cial sen­si­tiv­i­ties mean Alan couldn’t re­veal de­tails, but he said there would be soon be news of a ma­jor digi­ti­sa­tion col­lab­o­ra­tion – and it would be a popular, well-used source.

Alan says he’d also like to see mag­is­trates court reg­is­ters digitised and in­dexed in the fu­ture. “Some of th­ese are so valu­able, and can re­veal so much about a per­son. We have thou­sands of mag­is­trates records but again, peo­ple tend to steer clear as it’s so time-con­sum­ing. I hope th­ese are in­dexed and made avail­able, as there must be so many skele­tons in cup­boards wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered.”

Mean­while, lots of ac­tiv­ity has gone into var­i­ous on­line projects. Th­ese in­clude the new Hid­den New­cas­tle app and the HLF­funded ‘Wor Life’ WW1 project ( twmu­se­­life), com­mem­o­rat­ing the im­pact of war in the area.

You can also find lots of Ar­chive ma­te­rial on the Flickr stream, in­clud­ing war­ships built be­fore and dur­ing the con­flict on the River Tyne, plus images of launch par­ties. They’ve also re­cently posted ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to the Birt­ley Bel­gians – a group of wounded Bel­gian sol­diers who manned a Ty­ne­side mu­ni­tions fac­tory in Birt­ley. Nearly 4,000 Bel­gians came, set­ting up their own com­mu­nity which they named Elizabethville, af­ter their queen. You can ex­plore th­ese and other im­age sets at­tos/twm_news/sets.

Turn the page for de­tails of the bonus on­line con­tent

The Tyne Bridge over

the River Tyne as seen from Gateshead

The RMS Mau­re­ta­nia was built at Tyne & Wear's fa­mous Swan

Hunter ship­yard

An 1834 en­grav­ing en­ti­tled 'New­cas­tle upon Tyne from New Chatham, Gateshead'

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