Thursday, August 4, 2011

“Digital Microfilm” @ the National Archives of the UK

Many of us who have ancestors from the British Isles don’t have the opportunity to pop in to the National Archives in Kew as often as we might like--if at all. Now we can scan through some of the collections from the comfort of our computers.

Digital Microfilm allows you to search and download some of The National Archives' most popular records, which were previously available on microfilm. The National Archives has a large collection of microfilmed records, and we hope that making these available online will increase their accessibility. This will ultimately allow the microfilm readers used at The National Archives, Kew to be retired. Many of the records are indexes and we hope that these will be helpful in locating other relevant records.
The Digital Microfilm method of delivery is by using very large pdfs. Each download contains a whole piece, which could be up to 800 pages long. This means that Digital Microfilm is only available to online users with a broadband connection, and to users in the Research and Enquiries Room at The National Archives.
These records have not been indexed and so you will need to scroll through the pdfs, much as you would when using a microfilm. However, we would be more than happy for users to transcribe any of the Digital Microfilm content and post it on Your Archives, The National Archives' online community of records users.
These documents are currently free of charge to download.
While I was there examining this new service I got sidetracked to exploring “Wills from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury made between 1384 and 1858” to search for wills of Dowells who could possibly be ancestors of my Philip Dowell who died in Maryland in 1733---my longest standing and most frustrating brick wall. I was able to identify 22 such wills probated prior to 1700. My Philip was in Maryland as an established tobacco planter by the 1690s. The download cost me £3.50 about $5.71 US. It was quite a bit less than a round trip airfare from LAX to Heathrow; and the pdf file downloaded immediately. Now all I have to do is transcribe the Old English script. That process is guaranteed to take longer than securing the document.

What do you want to find today?

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