European World War I digitisation project launches in UK with Lancashire Museum roadshow

By Richard Moss | 23 February 2012
a photo of a young woman holding up a sepia portrait photograph of a man in uniform
Eighteen-year-old Ella Bull with a picture of her great grandfather, Ernest Reuben Bull, who returned from the Congo in 1916 to fight in the Great War
The passing of the final living veterans with first hand experience the First World War may mean it has slipped from living memory, but there is something about the Great War that keeps it firmly lodged in the public consciousness.

This is perhaps in part due to the family stories that are encapsulated in photographs, cap badges, letters and mementoes – and the living memories of family members who still recall the tales of parents and grandparents caught up in the war.

Now the European digital library Europeana is attempting to capture these family stories by recording them and digitising the related artefacts as part of a drive to digitise collections in time for the World War I outbreak centenary in 2014.

The project, which builds on a previous Oxford University project called the Great War Archive,, gets underway in the UK on March 10 with a Family History Roadshow at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston.

The first in a series of Euopean-wide roadshows, it invites families to bring their keepsakes, as well as talking about who they belonged to and why they are so important to them.

a photo of a re-enactor dressed as a First World War British soldier
Re-enactor Adrian Warrell dressed as a First World War soldier in the replica WW1 trench at the Museum of Lancashire.
Historians and experts will be on hand to discuss the significance of the finds. Staff will photograph and record the stories and objects for inclusion on the Europeana website.

The project has already yielded 25,000 digital images from nine family road shows in Germany during 2011, and is part of a European wide project that will see more than 400,000 items digitised from national libraries in eight European countries.

But it is the inclusion of the personal stories and objects privately held in family collections that will add a real human dimension and, it is hoped, create a powerful and valuable resource for historians and members of public in future generations. 

“As the centenary of 1914 and World War I approaches, it is more important than ever that we save these items,” says Stephen Bull, the curator of military history and archaeology at the Museum of Lancashire.

“It tells us what life was like for the ordinary people – the soldiers, their families and the workers back home who kept the country going.

“We are hoping people will bring in anything from that period, be it a family photo, a love letter, some sort of document or object.

"It doesn’t matter if they don’t know the background behind it - once it’s online, then it’s likely people will be able to fill in some of those gaps."

While experts scan the precious items, visitors can also explore the museum’s exemplary First World War collection and displays, including a replica trench. Costumed re-enactors will also be on hand to help visitors experience at first hand some of the sights, smells and sounds from a conflict that affected the everyday lives of virtually all Europeans.

People who can’t make the roadshow can also upload their artefacts and stories themselves online. Find out more at

  • Share your WW1 Family History at the Museum of Lancashire, Stanley Street, Preston, PR1 4YP on Saturday March 10, 10am-5.30pm.
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