Tuesday, 24 November, 2020
The Heritage Mining Company Limited: Purveyors of Mislaid Moments in Time
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What Is Heritage Mining?
It might be easier to explain what heritage mining isn't. If you've done any genealogical research in recent years you've probably used a computer to examine large, centralised, data-banks like transcribed National Census returns or National Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths. While these sources are invaluable, and form the bedrock of genealogical research, they are also a little impersonal. They can give you a lot of information on who your ancestors were, how they lived and so on, but they are mostly records taken by others, or in a format dictated by others, for particular reasons. While they provide an excellent snapshot of facts about your ancestors at a particular moment in time they are lacking in any trace of the humanity of the individuals they record. They are also mostly accessed as images on a computer screen which adds to the arm's length feel of this type of research.
On the other hand, I remember spending many happy hours in Manchester Central Library going through rolls of film of photographed parish registers. While the speed at which you got results, on hand-cranked film viewers, was a fraction of the speed of a computer, the feeling of dealing with records that looked like the originals and scrolling through each page in turn (there were no indices for them) was something completely different to computer based work. Yet even these records were copies, photographs of a paper original.
What I really wanted was to have real physical artifacts from my ancestors everyday lives, which might give a hint of how they thought and felt about people or things. Beyond a grainy image of one of my great grandmothers in my parent's wedding album I have no physical evidence of the existence of any of my ancestors who lived before my grandparents were born, nor am I likely to find any. There may be artifacts of my heritage out there but they are probably scattered to the four winds and my chances of ever tracking them down are vanishingly small.
Then it struck me that it was this heritage, these tiny, real, fragments of people's lives scattered in books, letters, postcards and myriad other places that could make a more personal, first hand, genealogy experience if it could be gathered together. It might even be possible, if enough people took to this kind of 'heritage mining' that someone might unearth something from one of my ancestors.
So I began by seeing whether it was possible to trace the poster and recipient of a small collection of Edwardian postcards from the names and addresses given on them. In some cases it wasn't possible but in most it was and, more than that, the detective work involved was an exciting and rewarding experience in itself. My hope is that enough people would be interested in buying fragments of heritage from their own family's past that it might also be financially rewarding. Of that I am yet to see.
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