Project Open Meeting 2016

As part of our wish to keep volunteers and members of the public informed about progress and plans for the project, we aim to hold an annual open meeting.  The format may vary from year to year, depending on that is going on.  This year we decided to have a few short presentations from volunteers about the research they’re involved with, as well as a review of progress since the previous meeting and a look ahead at what we would like to do.

Jane Whittaker, Head of Collections, who has overall responsibility for the project on a day-to-day basis, welcomed attendees, mentioned some highlights and then asked Judith to talk about what’s been done and what’s planned.  Judith drew people’s attention to the successful community connections Rupert had initiated including working with inmates at Deerbolt HMYOI (helped by volunteer Sarah Boddy), obtaining funding for a mini-project by students at Northumbria University (it’s hoped their work will be published soon), publicising the project through talks and attendance at local fetes and day clubs.  Rupert had also been the contact for the visit in September by students and staff from Thrybergh Academy in Rotherham, accompanied by the Mayor of Rotherham and representatives of Help the Heroes and the Royal British Legion, when they launched their song based on the story of the Smith brothers from Barnard Castle, as reported in a previous newsletter. 

The series of talks held in the museum covering a wide range of topics, had also been very popular, with positive feedback.  With a view to building on that, Judith had circulated given attendees a list of ideas for future talks and workshops for comment and suggestions – this will also be available through the newsletter in the near future.  Volunteers working in the museum, at Durham Record Office and at home have continued to find useful information and input data onto the Roll of Honour, despite some current problems with the website.  The project now has a subscription to Ancestry and training sessions will be offered soon.

Rupert’s contract has now ended but he is still keeping in touch.  He brought so much to the project and we all wish him well in his studies and freelance work.  Sarah Boddy has moved to London where she is now employed helping university students find suitable volunteering opportunities, and we wish her all the best as well.

Sheila and Carolyn told us how they had been involved in researching men on the Middleton St George war memorial in 2014.  They have now adopted Winston, although neither of them has a connection to the village, and are researching the names on the war memorial as well as the names from the Absent Voters list – most of whom (if not all) will have survived the war.  They have also had the good fortune to meet up with a local historian there who has been a great help.  It was a very encouraging presentation, and if anyone else – individually or as a team – would like to ‘adopt’ one of our townships, please get in touch (Judith.phillips@thebowesmuseum.org.uk).

June has been helping out over the past couple of years with tracing people using Ancestry and other online resources.  Her presentation demonstrated some of the potential pitfalls as well as the possibilities of successfully tracking someone.  One of her examples – Fred Walters – appears in the census records and military records with two different surnames as his mother re-married and he was sometimes recorded with his step-father’s surname.  She also showed the sad tale of Joseph Brunskill Kearton, who had been awarded the Military Medal, but found it difficult to settle into civilian life after being demobbed – entries in the Teesdale Mercury showed that he stood trial for theft on at least two occasions.  What we don’t know is anything about the reasons behind the crimes – we can only speculate.  June’s story about Joseph Kearton appears in this e-newsletter.

One of the innovations this year has been the monthly bookgroup.  There was a small display of some of the books discussed together with a composite list of recommendations.

Several people sent apologies – mostly suffering from the current bouts of illness – but, despite having fewer people attending than previously, it was an enjoyable and useful meeting.