Many archives are now working to digitize collections of their photos to make access easier for researchers to do preliminary research from their home or office, and to minimize the handling of originals.
To track down digital images, start your research in the appropriate archive for your location or subject (municipal/provincial/federal OR cultural/industrial/artistic), and see if they have a photo database you can search.
Every database will be slightly different but generally, you can enter date parameters, location, and photographer information, plus a subject you think will be appropriate to carry out your search.
But not all of these databases are user-friendly so write or phone the archives and ask for step-by-step instuctions or help in using them.
Don’t feel embarrassed or shy about asking for help.
Archivists know that their databases can be challenging to use and are usually more than willing to help you navigate and find something you’re looking for.
They want you to succeed!
Bear in mind that the images you see may only be in a thumb-nail version, or they may be bigger, but regardless, your use of them will generally be limited to research purposes only unless and until you’ve made arrangements with the archives that holds the copyright to that photo.
Considerations of fair use, copyright, and costs for various kinds of use including replication in books or used for a commercial purpose such as a poster, t-shirt, mug, or marketing material.
“The new town, called Vancouver, will no doubt be of some detriment to Port Moody”
This quote, comes from the 1887 BC Directory’s introduction to Port Moody, the city that had its designation as the terminus for the national railway pulled out from under it that year, in favour of Vancouver.
Rampant speculation, investment and enthusiasm ran high in the few years prior as Port Moody prepared for the onslaught of growth and investor interest that would come with the rail terminus.
But a syndicate of the CPR, headed by CPR Vice-president William Van Horne negotiated a deal with Premier William Smithe to bring the terminus to Granville (later Vancouver) in exchange for 6000 acres of land.
Interestingly, title to this land went not to the company, but to two of its board members, Donald Smith and Richard Angus.
And you have to be suspicious when, a few years later, Smith and Angus, along with other Victoria government officials, businessmen, and politicians earned spectacular profits on real estate parceling and selling of that land.
This is an important piece of Vancouver’s earliest settler history. The speculative nature of real estate profiteering from the 1880s established much of our local politics and business interests to this day.
Ironically, the world view that engendered this display of greed and avarice entirely dismissed any First Nations claims to this land in the first place.
In the novel I’m working on, set in Vancouver 1884-1913, I’m exploring these and related issues from a young settler woman’s perspective.
I can’t tell you how much I love the old directories to get a snapshot of the moment from that time’s perspective and countless “reading between the lines” possibilities that they provide.
I consulted the early BC Directories to learn more about Port Moody when one of my characters wants to get out of Granville (later Vancouver) because he can’t stand the boredom and backwardness of it. I have him weighing the pros and cons of moving to New Westminster or Port Moody in the months before the final CPR announcement in favour of Vancouver.
Another interesting collection within the British library’s sound archive are recordings of childrens’ games and songs made by Iona Opie and her husband Peter between 1969 and 1983, the Opie collection.
The Opie’s dedicated their working lives to the documentation of children’s play, folklore, language and literature.
They also published several influential works, most notably The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959).
Recordings are searchable by British county using an alphabetical drop-down menu, or by the name of the interviewer or interviewee.
Under the BBC Voices project, you can listen to speakers from all the counties of Britain to hear how they pronounce words in the early 21st century – and what words are in their current lexicon.
I took a quick listen to the people from Cornwall – because I’ve heard that people from that region have a strong accent that is difficult for outsiders to understand (though I didn’t find that from what I listened to – local accents are becoming less distinct with the movement of people from different regions). I also listened to speakers from West Yorkshire because that’s where the protagonist of my historical novel comes from.
Two of the recordings from the West Yorkshire area (Leeds) feature speakers from the Jamaican and Punjabi communities there which adds another flavour to the evolution of the English language
Between 2004 and 2005 group conversations were recorded in 303 locations involving a total of 1,293 people across the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The vast majority of conversations were conducted in English, but the collection also includes 31 interviews in Scots, 9 in Welsh, 5 in Scots Gaelic, 3 in Irish, 3 in Ulster Scots, and 1 each in Manx and Guernsey French. The selection available here represents the entire set of conversations conducted in English and Scots.
There are further recordings of accents and dialects on Sounds Familiar, which is an interactive, educational website with 78 extracts from recordings of speakers from across the UK and over 600 audio clips that illustrate changes and variations in contemporary British English.
While researching the specifics of early audio recordings for a short story I wrote a few months ago, I came across the Vernadsky library’s collection of sound archives in Kiev and it made me think of this different format of documents that – to a music lover and aurally-focused person such as myself – opens up a whole new world of fascinating historical materials.
It’s got one of the biggest collections of recorded sound in the world and includes music, spoken word, and ambient recordings as far back as 1905, mostly on metal cylinders.
A digitizing project began in the 1990s, allowing much of the collection to now be electronically accessible.
The British Library sound archive’s collection of six million recordings come from BBC radio broadcasts and privately made recordings . They include first hand accounts of Holocaust survivors and of WW I vets held in German prisoner-of-war camps, soundscapes of street scenes including open markets from the Victorian era, the sound of a sail being hoisted on its mast on an early sailing ship, recordings of early folk and opera singing, writers – including an interview with Leo Tolstoy and other noteworthy writers – bird calls and wildlife recordings from many parts of the world, and UK dialects.
In a nutshell – here are the classifications of different recordings available. I’ll delve into these more in the weeks to come.
Drama and literature
Popular music and jazz
Spoken language and dialects
Wildlife and other nature sounds
World and traditional music
It makes me think of all the amazing ways these recordings could be used – in art and theatre projects to help set a scene. In academic investigations comparing the predominant sounds of yesteryear to those we hear today. And to hear – perhaps for the first time for contemporary audiences – the sound of birds and animals that have become extinct.
Many of these archival clips and recordings are available online to the public and some can be imbedded into various kinds of documents, but there are others that are restricted to use by students and faculty of British universities that have subscribed to its collection. However – if you are in London – and go into the reading room, you can listen to almost anything in the collection.
More in the coming weeks on use of this collection, restrictions, and a selection of recordings.
The library holds one of the largest collections of phonographic recordings of Jewish musical folklore in the world – including Jewish synagogue singing – on more than 1000 wax cylinders.
Before I worked in an archives I remembered hearing news-stories about things being discovered in different archival repositories and I couldn’t understand – why didn’t they know what was in their collection?
But now that I understand better how many unique items are housed in archives, I see that not everything can be added to a searchable list.
Not to mention the political restrictions that can make archival materials unavailable and even subject to destruction.
In January 1949 the Soviet government confiscated the entire archival collection of the Institute of Jewish Culture and arrested almost all of its employees including Moishe Beregovski who I wrote about last week and about whom I fictionalized a story called Pale Shadow*.
After the break-up of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in the early 1990s, the Vernadsky collection of wax cylinder recordings became publicly available and researchers have been going through them ever since – a veritable renaissance.
The collection includes music collected by several generations of cultural researchers who gathered material from as early as 1908 out of Belarus where there was a large Jewish diaspora as well as a plethora of traditional religious centres.
A huge project to re-recording the collection was carried out between 1996 and 1999, from which a CD was produced, “Treasures of Jewish Culture in Ukraine”, in 1997.
*I entered Pale Shadow into a story contest that the magazine Prairie Fire ran so don’t want to jeopardize my entry by posting it here yet.
Last week I reported that the Vancouver Sun newspaper is now searchable online within the Ancestry digital resource of the VPL for the date range 1912-2018.
This way to search will shave hours off your research time plus give you easy access to news stories that might whet your appetite and inspire you to to write a story, make a movie, paint a picture, or just have fun exploring the antics you humans get into.
It sure beats locating, loading, scrolling, and unloading rolls of microfilm that can eat up lots of time with sometimes negligible results.
This new database allows you to search by keyword, title, news-reporter, or date and to narrow it by country, province, city, and individual newspaper – of which there are hundreds.
If you’re looking for stories from the Vancouver Sun specifically you’ll need to narrow your search by choosing country (Canada); province (British Columbia); city (Vancouver); and finally, newspaper (Vancouver Sun).
Or you search within one entire newspaper from one a particular day or date-range, or by date-range followed by keyword search within that range.
You can also select any number of newspapers to do a simultaneous search in multiple newspapers anytime or for a specific date-range.
Like any kind of searchable database, there are usually multiple ways to search and you’ll probably find your favourite if you do enough searches and within a short enough period of time to get it into your head.
I always find it easiest to have a search in mind before I go through a new database. It makes it less vague and probably more useful in the long-run. Here are my steps:
Go through each tab on the database’s interface page (what you see on your screen which is a user-friendly rendition of the back-end of the database) and see what options they provide; also any sidebars
Keep track of how I do my searches, making hand-written notes on a sheet of paper at each step so I don’t get lost or forget what I’ve done
Assess the value of those steps for the type of search I’m doing and adjust/go back/keep as appropriate.
It’s sometimes tempting to get lots of results but if 99% of them are no good you just end up spending time combing through and eliminating them. Better to get fewer, more specific results than hundreds of useless ones.
Unless you’re just browsing for ideas …….
I did a search for a column I wrote for the Sun in 1997 which I’d couldn’t find in my paper files anymore. First I narrowed my search to the Vancouver Sun, then to the date I knew it was published, and finally I did a keyword search within those parameters, and it came up nice ‘n easy.
I’ve just added it to my “Clippings” file that is part of the Ancestry site you might find useful.
If you want to try out online searches from your home or office there is a 7-day free trial after which you have to start paying $74.90 for six months, unless you cancel your free trial before it ends. So write on your calendar when you need to cancel the free trial if you don’t want to be charged. This is the only way to access it from home after your free trial ends.
But if you can get into any branch of the Vancouver Public Library, you can get free access to it through the Ancestor digital resource. Check with a librarian for any help getting into it.
I imagine it’s the same with most public libraries but call your first to be sure.
And would you leave a comment if you get free access to it at another library or your experience using this resource so we can all learn?