BBC Domesday Reloaded: Was this where it all started?

13 May

I was delighted to read the announcement from The National Archives about the relaunch of the BBC Domesday Project. This was an ambitious project to compile a modern Domesday Book in 1986 and although completed it was pretty much destined to immediate obscurity due to the technology involved.

The resurrection of the project is a fascinating story and a useful lesson on the obsolescence of data storage formats. A lot of effort went into rescuing the data in this project, could you afford the same effort to rescue your genealogy data?

The real reason for my delight was that it was around the time that this project was being compiled that I started to get involved in local history, I don’t think it was actually this project that got me started, it was probably a year or two before that.

I seem to remember it was talked about at school, as we were going one of the groups involved in supplying some of the data. I think however when it came down to it my class had moved on to secondary school and it was left to our successors to actually complete the project.

I think my interest in local history was spurred on by another project, I am not sure what that project was, but I seem to remember an exhibition was going to be put on somewhere, but again we left before it was completed.

I remember viewing the original project at the Science Museum in London on a couple of occasions, and I think the last time I saw it, probably ten to fifteen years ago, it wasn’t actually working anymore. Whether the hardware had failed or whether they had turned it off to try to prolong it’s life I don’t know. In more recent years I have viewed a re-mastered version of the project in the library at The National Archives.

I spent some time last night exploring the project, looking at some places that I remember from my childhood, and was surprised how things have moved on in the last twenty-five years. For genealogical purposes there could be some useful information contained among the data, such as the following entry, submitted by an eleven year old John Gasson (not this John Gasson I hasten to add):

My name is John Gasson.I am 11 years
old.I wake each day at 7.15am.I dress
in my school uniform of grey trousers,
white shirt,green and yellow tie and
green jumper.My mother,father,brother
and I have breakfast together.At 8.30
my father leaves.He works at Banstead
as a structural engineer.My brother
and I leave next.My favourite subjects
are Geography,History,Maths,Games and
Swimming.I am Captain of the School
Football Team and I have played for
Surrey County Football Team.
Two weeks ago Mrs.Morgan took Year4 to
a hotel in Seahuses,Northumbria.We
visited the Farne Islands,Lindisfarne,
Hadrian’s Wall,Vindolanda,Carvoran and
Bowes Museum.It was a very successful
week.We worked hard and learned a lot.
My grandfather has traced our family
as far back as 1461:right back to my
fourteen-times grandfather Buckler.

As you can see the original formatting has been retained, every character counted in those days as they tried to cram in as much data as possible. The good news about this latest incarnation is that you can search the content as well as by place. This was how I came up with the above example, over the next few days I will try some more ancestral places and surnames and see what other delights I can discover.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.

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