Exercising the Brain

One of our volunteers has written the following reflection on her experience so far of working at the Archives & Museum:

“I am now into my sixth month as a volunteer archive assistant at Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum, and the assignment I am currently working on is an in-progress family history project entitled ‘Out of your Census’. The purpose of the project is to ascertain the identities of the patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital when the census returns of 1891, 1901 and 1911 were made. When these records were produced, the patients who inhabited Bethlem during these periods were identified by their initials only. Now that the returns are in the public domain and available online, they are an invaluable resource for family historians – but not in respect of patients of hospitals such as Bethlem. The project utilises historic archival data indices to identify the Bethlem patients whose initials appear in these census returns, with the aim of putting this data online in a searchable form.

“My time at Bethlem Archives & Museum has been rewarding on both a personal and an academic level. My MA was in Art History and I chose to concentrate part of my studies on art and mental health, so the work of Bethlem Museum is of particular interest to me. The research also allows me to utilise my academic knowledge and exercise my brain!  Due to the current economic climate, finding work in this field has been extremely difficult, so volunteering at the museum is a break from the monotony of working in a shop. However, juggling a job in customer service and volunteering is sometimes difficult, as I have to keep to full-time hours in my paid employment, yet my interest and passion lies in my voluntary work!

“I have found reading nineteenth-century handwriting challenging. Moreover, due to the content of the records it has been hard to read the words before me without sentiment due to their content. Though 120 years have passed since the making of the 1891 census, the memories of many of the individuals whose lives are documented in the leather bound records of this era will remain with me; they are an indelible part of Bethlem’s history. When finished, ‘Out of your Census’ will provide a unique means of bringing these ‘invisible’ individuals out of the shadows of history, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to it.”

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