During #OnePlaceWednesday on Twitter this week I asked: how has Covid-19 and its associated restrictions, challenges and responses affected you and your #OnePlaceStudy? Have you researched / blogged more, or less? What online resources have you made the most of? Also, have you been looking at how your Place has been affected by (and how its people have responded to) Covid-19, and if so what have you found? This post is based in part on the replies to those questions.

Time for the Place?

The effects of Covid-19, and of the measures put in place to deal with the pandemic, have been enormous and have affected us, as people and as one-placers, in a multitude of ways. For some, just getting through these difficult times with family, health and sanity intact has been challenging enough – working wonders with one-place studies has not been an option.

Tweet from Lucy (The Crescent, Taunton)

A number of one-placers however have found that self-isolating, being furloughed, or working from home (so many new phrases have entered our language or taken on new meaning in recent months!) has given them more time for their studies. Some of our members, including Lucy Sarson (The Crescent, Taunton) and Jennifer Jones (Axedale), have used that time to do more OPS research, beef up their blogging output, or otherwise expand their study websites. Liz Craig (Dunster) meanwhile has been mostly working from home and has devoted the time saved on travelling to work, to her one-place study: working on the censuses, transcribing extra details, and making a mental note of the trends she has noticed.

For Sue Mastell (Manor View, Church End Finchley), being confined at home as a result of the pandemic presented an opportunity to gather together all the information she has collected on her Place over the course of seven years, and create a brand new OPS website (from which the images in the montage below are taken)!

A montage of images from the Manor View, Church End Finchley OPS website

Restrictions on record

Some members with one-place studies which extend to present-day events as well as the history of their Places have naturally also documented the impact of Covid-19. Liz Craig has been keeping a record of how Dunster has been affected and what has been done locally, and Janet Barrie has created a page to record, in words and pictures, what has been happening in and around Springhill.

Restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 have affected one-place studies as well as many other aspects of our everyday lives. Jennifer Jones’s interviewing of older residents of Axedale has been put on hold. The Historical Rillington Study Group had plans for an Open Day on 4 April 2020 but that of course had to be cancelled. However members of the group have remained in constant contact with each other and (via the Rillington One-Place Study Facebook page) with their Place’s community. In the words of Pam Smith: “Nothing stops us!” and as a testament to that fact, here is a photo of the group meeting up in a garage to discuss their favourite parish (keeping one large map apart of course).

Members of the Historical Rillington Study Group meet up

One of the biggest disruptions to one-place study research was the closure of archives, libraries, museums and other public repositories containing records and other ‘raw materials’ for our craft. One-placers suddenly found that they had to make the most of the resources they already had, along with online records of course (digitised newspaper websites have been a popular port of call). In some cases this led to the discovery of websites previously unknown to our one-placers – for Lucy Sarson these included EverAfter and Interment.net for death and burial records.

Unlocked for lockdown

Cover of Destinations, June 2020A range of institutions and organisations have responded to the challenges and privations caused by site closures and loss of access to information. Lockdown actually led to a lot of things previously held behind paywalls, being unlocked! Our own contribution was making the June issue of our members’ journal Destinations available to all (see Helping to bust the boredom). There have been many more excellent initiatives, including the following (which at the time of writing are still ongoing):

  • The National Archives (UK): All of the digital records on TNA’s website which had previously been subject to a small fee to download, are available for free (with restrictions on the number of documents that can be downloaded with a given period of time). See Free access to digital records.
  • JSTOR: This online repository of academic journals and books previously allowed individuals to register and access a maximum of six articles per month for free. That limited number has been expanded to 100 articles per month until 31 December 2020. See JSTOR resources during COVID-19 (and scroll down to Expanded free access for everyone through December 31, 2020).
  • The British Association for Local History: Back issues of the Association’s journal The Local Historian published more than three years ago have been free to download from the BALH website for some time, but now all issues with the exception of the most recent edition are available for free (and they contain much of interest to one-placers!). See The Local Historian.
  • Ontario History: Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the most recent editions of this publication (Fall 2019 and Spring 2020) are available for free. Previous issues going back to 2005 were already freely available. See Ontario History.
  • Ancestry Library Edition: Pre-pandemic, you could get free access to the Library Edition of Ancestry via a computer at a library subscribing to the service. After the lockdown of libraries arrangements were made so that library patrons – not just in the UK but in other countries too – could, for the first time, access Ancestry Library Edition from home. That arrangement is still in place and is now scheduled to last until the end of 2020. (Update: access now extended to 31 March 2021.) Check with your library service to see if they provide access, sign up and sign in (and while you’re there see what other family history / local history info and data is provided). There’s also a YouTube video explaining How to Use Ancestry Library Edition.
  • FamilySearch: With the closure of FamilySearch Family History Centres, many hoped that the digitised records which could only be accessed from within those buildings would be made available to view from home. Unfortunately the terms under which FamilySearch make those digitised records available prevent that. However, I learned from Marian Burk Wood on Twitter that there are “parking lot angels”, presumably members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, who park outside Family History Centres and use WiFi to look up images of documents for others! The New York City Genealogy Facebook group is one place where these angels have been contacted; Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (website / USA Facebook group) has also been recommended. I have no personal experience of using the services of parking lot angels, But I would suggest that any requests made of them are for specific, individual record look-ups rather than, say, whole parish registers(!), and that a precise link to the required document is provided so that the angel doesn’t have to do that part of the job too.

(If you know of anything else that should be on the above list, please let me know.)

The drive to digitise

DigitisationIncreasing the volume of digitised records from archive is not an easy task when collections are in archives and archive staff are at home, but I’ve seen a number of examples of this happening nonetheless, along with cataloguing being done to make it easier for us to find things in archive collections. Most archives have also offered advice and assistance with enquiries by email, through lockdown and beyond.

With physical access to many archives now being restored, albeit with essential limitations on public access, the quest to digitise more archival content continues. One example of what’s been going on behind the scenes comes from the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, which notes that the difficult period we now live in “has emphasised the importance of having a strong digital presence”. The Centre has therefore been increasing its content on the Know Your Place website – for more information and a link to this increasingly useful resource for the West of England (the historic counties of Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire) see Know Your Place Wiltshire. How to use, get the most out of and contribute to, this expanding and exciting resource (Wayback machine archive link).

The Zoom boom

Meetings, conferences, seminars and shows at which you get to meet up with, chat to, and hug fellow researchers and friends, old and new – I know I’m not the only one who misses them! For now though, they just aren’t safe, online events have taken their place, and ‘Zoom’ can be added to the list of words which have taken on a new meaning. Of course, the Society for One-Place Studies has long been a champion of online meetings. The resumption of our webinars, which took place in July, was actually something we had hoped to launch in January, rather than a response to Covid-19 restrictions! It’s great to see the Society Webinar Programme (make sure you are logged in before clicking that link!) now extending through the first quarter of 2021.

The Society's webinar Getting To Know Your Place

For many other organisations, meetings and presentations online have been a switch from what were intended to be in-person events. It seems to me that they have gone so well that the number of online events is now on a par, at least, with the number of traditional gatherings that would be taking place if a certain novel coronavirus had not appeared towards the end of 2019. Examples of such events coming up which will be of interest to one-placers include:

RootsTech Connect promotional image

Although real live meetings with fellow family history, local history and one-place study enthusiasts are of course missed, the move of these events to online platforms (with recordings available afterwards) has made them accessible to many more people and they have been embraced with a fair degree of enthusiasm. They may well be here to stay, even in the post-pandemic world we all look forward to.

Steve Jackson
Social Media Coordinator

Picture credits. Tweet from @TheCrescentOPS: from Twitter. Montage of images from the Manor View, Church End Finchley OPS: compiled from images at the Manor View, Church End Finchley website. Members of the Historical Rillington Study Group: Courtesy of Pam Smith and the Historical Rillington Study Group. Cover of Destinations, June 2020: Society for One-Place Studies. Digitisation: Public domain image from the Noun Project website. Title screen for our webinar ‘Getting To Know Your Place’: Society for One-Place Studies. RootsTech Connect promotional image: From the RootsTech website.

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