On the Importance of Trove

Over the past few days, there have been family historians around the country, possibly around the world, suffering from withdrawal symptoms as our favourite web-site, Trove, undergoes a revamp.

While that sunbeam is now available to brighten our lives, there’s a shadow of gloom hanging over all aspects of the National Library of Australia with announced cuts to government funding.

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It would be simple to think that Trove is there just to serve a “bunch of middle-aged genealogists” with nothing else to do. That would be very far from the truth.

Trove is a true national treasure – it reveals nuances of our nation’s history which would otherwise remain obscure or unknown. Much of that may relate to the ordinary people of past eras but they are the ones who built our nation with their hard work and sweat from developing farms, taking risks, travelling vast distances, building railways, fighting wars, working in factories. Yes, the heavy-hitters may have been in charge, but they’d have been nowhere without the ordinary person. Our whole nation’s ethos is built on the belief of the “ordinary man” – sometimes to the detriment of our tall poppies who pay the price for being extraordinary in their fields.

While many official records in archives or libraries can provide us with insights into past lives, Trove reveals the stories that go well beyond the easy research points of specific dates, like births, deaths, marriages or funerals.

Without Trove (and appropriate funding for the National Library) we lose the chance to explore specific topics of broader national interest than our individual families, important as they are to us.

In my own wider research, I use Trove to enlighten me on two One Place Studies:

  1. The lives and fates of immigrants from East County Clare, Ireland. Prior to the digitisation of Trove I’d have found it nigh impossible to learn what happened to many of the people in my 1100 person database, let alone discover more emigrants.
  2. The life of the small Queensland community of Murphy’s Creek at the base of the Toowoomba range – documenting its morphing characteristics over decades from a thriving railway construction tent-site to a thriving community then its decline and later regeneration.

Similarly, my genimate Merron extensively uses Trove to research the history of Victoria’s Western District Pioneers.

International researchers find references to their families or local events that were revealed in Australian newspapers: it’s not just Australia that benefits.

The list could go on and on. It’s not “just” genealogists using Trove for their own families but it has much wider applications. Anyone who uses international digitised newspapers could confirm that Trove is a world leader in terms of access to multiple sources (news, images, theses, books) – no other source that I’ve used comes close to its standards.

The grassroots love of Trove is evidenced by the extent of voluntary editing of text from the OCR images, especially challenging with early newspapers. Truly a huge community contribution of millions of corrections…just imagine the people power behind that.

But of course we’re not just talking about potential cuts to our beloved Trove. If you’ve visited the National Library in person, or searched the catalogue, you will appreciate that Trove is just one part of a suite of its store of our nation’s history. How this can be undervalued and funding cut bewilders my mind. Do our political leaders not care about our nation’s history? If they do, why does everything else take precedence over knowledge and learning?

What do you think about the threat to research into our nation’s history? 

If you have a twitter account you can join the protest using the #fundtrove tag and include @senatorfield in your tweet. It’s time for us to stand up for what we think is so important to our history.

You might be interested in some of these stories:

Our major cultural institutions are in crisis

International researchers value work of Australian libraries and archives.