When I started my work experience at Hillingdon Local Studies, Archives and Museum Service, I was not sure what to expect, but in one week I got to experience what being an archivist is – by reading a year’s worth of local papers from 1942, cataloguing a local photo from 1914 and beginning to catalogue documents of a local volunteer regiment from World War 1.
As a year 12 student I am currently studying the Tudors and America in the second half of the 20th century, so I am used to dealing with textbooks and the internet, but before this week I had not been to the source of all that information. I had heard of archives and just pictured a massive warehouse full of old pieces just like in the movies; but when I first went into the archives I found a room full of objects, papers, photographs and maps dating back hundreds of years.
I got to discover how hard it is to retrieve the information from these documents – for example I was tasked with transcribing a local blacksmith’s accounts from 1790. Sounds simple, right? Well wrong – it’s not that simple. After you find where to start reading you then have to try and decipher the code from back then – for example three different spellings for the word pickaxe and not one of them being spelled p-i-c-k-a-x-e. I had to use various websites and online tools to translate the old English into modern English, which complicates the process as a majority were ‘slang’ from back then, with no translation known to modern English.
One of the most interesting jobs I got was to investigate a local soldier who died at the Battle of the Somme. For this I got to use Ancestry.com to search his family and service history, to try and create a picture of his life before the war, as well as what and who he left behind to fight for his country. It has been a real insight into the week of an archivist which has taught me many skills that will help me when it comes to researching and finding information for future learning.
By Lewis (Work Experience from Vyners School)