When asked what genre I consider my book “Olga – A Daughter’s Tale” to come under I list biographical fiction. The events that I write about occurred and were told to me by my mother, Olga, and her sister Ruby. However, because by the time I heard about them decades later both Olga and Ruby’s memories, for at least some of the events, were not so sharp and I was prompted to do some research about Jamaica.
The first place I headed for was the library in my hometown of Brighton in the UK, now known as the Jubliee Library. I’d spend hours there pouring over microfilm of the early 1900s from The Times Archive (London), frequently forgetting my original purpose and getting absorbed in something else totally unrelated to my original search.
In my book, “Olga – A Daughter’s Tale” I wrote a fair bit about Kingston, Jamaica around 1930 and to gain more information I turned to the The Newspaper Archives of The Jamaica Gleaner. The archives gave me a great feel for the social structure and the differing class and social status of Jamaicans – whether they were white, coloured or black something I hadn’t been too aware of previously.
I travelled a few times to Kew in Richmond Surrey on the south east coast of England to visit the The National Archives, were a collection of over 11 million historical government and public records are held and which collection is one of the largest in the world. From the Domesday Book to modern government papers and digital files, their collection includes paper and parchment, electronic records and websites, photographs, posters, maps, drawings and paintings.
But the reason I was there was to research my Family History. I was interested in trying to locate through the UK Census of 1901 members of my family. The other reason I went there was because the National Archive holds lists of passengers and ships who arrived into and departed from the UK between 1878 to 1960, a really great resource for genealogists and I was looking for evidence of my mother’s arrival to England.
And then, of course, there was the BBC’s wartime Archive Department a prime resource to discover what life was like for the people of London between the years 1939 – 1945.
Using these resources made me aware how important it is to preserve and learn about the past, whether it’s one’s own personal history or more general. I got as much enjoyment accessing records from such diverse resources as I did writing my book and I’m so grateful we all have these illustrious organisations to learn from.