The Genealogical Rabbit Hole and IDNA

by Heather Kohles Hahn

Jumping In…

EPSON scanner imageRecently I acquired documents and photographs documenting my family’s history.  Included in the bins and piles was a passport belonging to the person I believe is my great great grandfather, Johann “John” Verhota.  The passport was issued by the Austro-Hungarian Empire circa 1879.  My family always identified as being of German ancestry, sometimes narrowing the scope to Bavarian, but as it turns out, we are of Bohemian ancestry.  Information gleaned from the passport has Johann’s place of origin as Brulic, in the district of Wittengau, which is modern day Třeboň in the Czech Republic

With this new information and using the International Directory of National Archives as a resource, I started down the rabbit hole to uncover more information about Johann.  The directory provided the perfect starting point, the website of the National Archives of the Czech Republic.  From there Google Translate allowed me to navigate as best I could through the website, identifying finding aids, digital repositories and other important information about the Archives.  When I reached a dead end, I went back to the Directory, where I found the email contact for the Archives.  I reached out, asking for any assistance they might be able to give me.

Further I go…

The National Archives was not able to assist me in my search; however they did provide me with the contact information for the Třeboň Regional Archives and that is where I hit what felt like the mother lode.  I received an email back from Markéta Hrdličková, the Head of the Fund and Collections Management Department.  Included in the email was an offer to make a genealogy for me of my family in Bohemia and she also provided me with the correct family name, Vrchota not Verhota.  Perhaps Verhota was one of those Americanized Ellis Island names given or chosen by Johann.  Ms. Hrdličková asked for a copy of the passport to review, which I excitedly provided.

Where She Stops…

This rabbit hole would have been much longer and more circuitous if I had not used the International Directory of National Archives.  The Directory gave me information in a familiar language and direct points of contact to begin my journey.  Hours that would have been spent finding the Archives’ website and trying to decipher its contents and contacts were drastically reduced, making the research process enjoyable and fruitful. As of this writing, I am waiting for a response from Ms. Hrdličková regarding my genealogical inquiry.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

ICA Yaounde 2018 “Archives : Governance, Memory and Heritage”

This November, Dr. Franks will be traveling to Yaounde, Cameroon, to speak at the 2018 International Council on Archives Conference.  This year’s theme is Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage. This will be the first ICA Conference to be held in an Africa country.  As such, during this conference, the challenges that face African nations in regards to the preservation of the national heritage will be front and center.  

Dr. Franks will be discussing a Snapshot in Time: The National Archives of 54 African Nations:

Not all 54 African nations have official national archives, although all have officials and citizens who understand the value of their cultural heritage and are dedicated to the pursuit of gathering, preserving, and providing access to archival materials that can be used to tell the story of their countries.  This presentation will provide a glimpse into the status of national archives in the 54 countries based on data gathered between September 2016 and December 2017.

Organizers hope that this conference will bring together archivists and information professionals from all 54 countries on the African continent.  ICA believes this will provide the best environment for nations to discuss their archival objectives as a means of furthering Africa’s development.

To learn more about the conference, click on the link provided.

The National Archives of Japan

Author ~ Nicolette Hall
The National Archives of Japan, Tokyo, Japan.

While recently traveling in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to visit the National Archives of Japan.  Having assisted with the International Directory of National Archives (IDNA) project last year, it was exciting to have a chance to visit one of the institutions that our team had been researching.  While at the archive, I was able to see two exhibitions that were on view, each covering transitional periods in the government, society, and culture of Japan entitled Edo shogunate, the final fight – “Bunmuta” reform at the end of the Edo period and Japan’s Modern History.  

Edo shogunate, the final fight –
“Bunmuta” reform at the end of the Edo period
Letters and other documents on display as part of the exhibit Edo shogunate, the final fight – “Bunmuta” reform at the end of the Edo period, National Archives of Japan

The first exhibition looked back 150 years to the Emperor Meiji’s consolidation of power through the imperial force’s removal of the shogunate.  This was presented in four sections as a progression of the imperial forces northward through Honshu, the largest island of the Japanese archipelago.  Though the accompanying didactic panels were entirely in Japanese, with the use of Google Translate it was incredibly fascinating to gain even a superficial understanding of this pivotal moment in Japanese history.  The materials presented included official documents, letters, diary entries, architectural drawings, prints, and photographs. Though only 150 years ago, this shift radically altered Japanese society and would be a large stepping stone towards the rapidly approaching changes of Japan’s modernization.  

Japan’s Modern History
Election Act amendment granting women’s suffrage, 1945. This amendment also lowered the voting age and the age for election to the House of Representatives.  In the 1946 election, 39 female Diet members were elected

The second exhibition focused on major events from the Meiji period (1868-1912) onward.  The exhibition materials on display were selected to bring historical events to life for modern viewers and to show the importance of preserving historical records for future generations.  Didactic panels in this exhibition were presented in both Japanese and English, and provided insight into the historical significance of the articles on display. Some of the artifacts in this exhibition included the Petition for an Elected Assembly of 1874, diagrams and drawings related to the installation of arc lights (an early form of electric street lamp) in Tokyo in 1882, the Sino – Japanese Peace Treaty (Treaty of Shimonoseki) of 1895, the granting of women’s suffrage in 1945, the Treaty of Peace with Japan (the San Francisco Peace Treaty) of 1952, and the Okinawa Reversion Agreement of 1972.  One of the most interesting displays was the side by side juxtaposition of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan (February 11, 1889) with the Constitution of Japan (November 3, 1946). One of these documents establishes a form of constitutional monarchy for the Empire of Japan while the other establishes a parliamentary system that changed the role of emperor to a ceremonial position, all in the span of less than 60 years.

It was quite exciting to have the opportunity to visit the National Archive of Japan and see in person one of the institutions that will be a part of the upcoming International Directory of National Archives book.  Having the chance to learn about some of the historical artifacts of Japan held within the archive really enhanced my experiences as I was traveling.  Seeing and learning about the documents presented in both exhibitions provided additional context and put into perspective the historical significance of locations visited in both Tokyo and Osaka.  As a visitor it was also fascinating to see efforts that were made to accommodate and be inclusive to non-Japanese speaking visitors to the archives. While the archives seemed a little off the beaten path for most tourists visiting Tokyo, that added bit of accessibility combined with the kindness and approachability of the staff made for a really enjoyable and educational experience.  Overall, the National Archives of Japan felt like a wonderful example of how national archives work to bring the historical and cultural history of a nation to life for its people.

Interview with Majid Sultan Al Mehairi, Executive Director of the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates

National Archives of the UAE

Interview Conducted by Kate Eminhizer



While attending the ALA-ICA conference in Mexico City in November 2017, I had the privilege of speaking with Majid Sultan Al Mehairi, the Executive Director of the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates. His areas of expertise include information technology, digital preservation, government records and leadership.

When did you assume your duties? What prompted you to accept the challenge?

I became the Executive Director in May 2008. I was previously the Director of the Department of Support Services and Head of the Information Technology Section at the National Archive. Accepting the position provided me with the opportunity to continue advancing the country’s electronic management system and to focus on project management.

What is the mission of your national archives? How do you explain/present this to your funding authorities?

The National Archives concentrates on collecting government records and those records that have national value. This is mandated by the government, so they ensure that there is appropriate funding available to be successful in that mission.

If you could tell me one thing special about your archives, what would it be?

A. The National Archives works very hard in making sure that records are accessible to the public. The more people who access the Archives’ records, the more connected they will be to the nation’s cultural heritage. There are many apps that the public can download to their mobile phones so that they may learn and interact with the nation’s history quickly and accurately.

What international partnerships or collaborations do you have or are you working for (aside from ICA)?

The Archives is very supportive of the vision of UNESCO PERSIST. UNESCO PERSIST is an international effort to advocate for the long-term preservation of digital documentary heritage. In late 2018, the Archives plans on being able to make available online the product of a collaboration with the National Archives of the United Kingdom. The Arabian Gulf Digital Archives will exhibit over 500,000 reports, letters, maps, and ships’ logs that pertain to the history of the region.

How much has the work of the national archives changed in light of digital technology? How has this impacted the way records are accessed by the public?

In 2017 the United Arab Emirates launched the UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy. The purpose is to introduce the latest technology into all aspects of government to improve performance and efficiency. The date by which the country is striving to be fully digital is 2031, but the hope is to complete the transition for government records by 2020. Having born digital records would mean there would be less of a delay in providing access to those records to the public.

What is your vision for the future of the national archives?

The National Archives has a vision of preserving those records that best exemplify the nation’s history and cultural heritage. As more and more records are created in a digital format, appropriate metadata must be applied from the date of creation. Also, long-term digital preservation options must be a priority.

What advice do you have for those beginning their careers in archives?

It is best for everyone to embrace technology. The advances in technology are going to provide multiple options for the long-term preservation of our cultural heritage.

Interview with Jeff James of the National Archives of the United Kingdom

Jeff James CEO and Keeper of the National Archives of the United Kingdom

Interview Conducted by Kate Eminhizer

My formal interview with Jeff James occurred on November 28th, 2017. He and I had already met throughout the course of the conference; therefore, we had already established a bit of a rapport by the time the interview took place.

When did you assume your duties? What prompted you to accept the challenge?

I became the Chief Executive Officer and Keeper of the National Archives of the United Kingdom in July 2014. I wanted to further expand my leadership and managerial skills.

What is the mission of your national archives? How do you explain/present this to your funding authorities?

The National Archives is the custodian of the public record and the government’s trusted expert in managing, preserving and using information. We also manage the Crown Copyright and provide publishing guidance for all government publications. All funding comes directly from the treasury as directed by Parliament.

If you could tell me one thing special about your archives, what would it be?

The most important thing about our archives is the connection people can have with the records. While we are the keepers of some of the country’s oldest documents, such as the Doomsday Book, it is the relevance our contents have with the public that makes us special.

What international partnerships or collaborations do you have or are you working for (aside from ICA)?

Part of the National Archives’ strategic ambition is to increase our collaborations worldwide so that we may drive the development of archives around the world. We continually look for ways to expand and enhance our reputation in research and collections management. The National Archives has contributed records access to the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property, and we have encouraged increased international participation in our digital preservation program PRONOM.

How much has the work of the national archives changed in light of digital technology? How has this impacted the way records are accessed by the public?

There has been a ten-year decline in usage at the archive itself but our online access has increased by 400%. Digital technology will allow us to continue to increase the accessibility of our records to the public. There is also a large demand to digitize records. The increase in digital records will also force funding to be diverted to digital preservation.

What is your vision for the future of the national archives?

I see the future turning archives into a more digital environment. I also see the opportunity to increase educational programming at the archive.

What advice do you have for those beginning their careers in archives?

The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone is to ask questions. Do not simply accept the status quo; challenge it to make it better.

Interview with ICA President David Fricker

From left to right: Pam Lutzker (author of this blog post), ICA President David Fricker, Kate Eminhizer

David Fricker is an energetic individual, with a great sense of humor, who is very enthusiastic about archives.  He is the current President of the ICA, but my colleague, Kate Eminhizer, and I first met him as the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) at the FAN Meeting preceding the ALA-ICA 2017 Conference. Director-General David Fricker’s understanding of the fundamentals of data, information, knowledge, records and archiving is breath-taking and his vision of the archival community working together to improve access to records (especially digitally) across boundaries is one of the reasons that he supports FAN. Although Director-General Fricker was very busy (he was also a Key Note Speaker for the Conference) he willingly sat down with us after the Emerging Professionals Luncheon the first day of the ALA-ICA Conference, November 27, 2017.

Director-General Fricker earned his BA in Computing Studies, and began his career in the Australian Customs Services, holding several important positions before leaving to found his own consultancy business. In 2002, he joined the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) as CIO and was appointed to the position of Deputy Director-General in 2007. Given this background in computer science, I was curious how he ended up in archives. He explained that it was a natural outgrowth of working with computers and data.  Data leads to information. Information leads to knowledge.  Knowledge comes from organizing and analyzing information and data.

The processes of selecting, preserving and making accessible records that are vital to the archival process ensure that accurate and reliable information is preserved – not only for the society, but for the individual. The way archives are viewed needs to change.  The immediacy of access to digital records is a game-changer for the archival community. There needs to be a conscious effort to move beyond preservation and limited access to reaching out to the community and becoming advocates on their behalf, thus showing the value of archives.

Director-General Fricker’s strengths in digital records management led to his appointment as Director-General of the NAA in 2012. In 2014, he was elected to the position of President of the ICA. At NAA, Director-General Fricker has worked to further electronic access to records. One of the most recent projects is a database of World War I service records (coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the end of the war). The database is designed to enable the public to upload information about the subjects of the records; and contribute their own material about the men and women that served during the first World War. This type of “crowd sourcing” provides the opportunity for the public to establish a personal relationship with the records, and in so doing keeps the memory of those individuals in the records alive and relevant to contemporary society. David pointed out that no matter which country you are in, the archive will always have something relating to any one individual, even if indirectly; and this differentiates Archives from other memory institutions. The more the public understands the personal connection they have to the records, the higher the demand will be to make those records available.

My final question to Director-General David Fricker was to ask for advice for those beginning their career in archives. He said that their ambition should include the democratization of information.  Not only should archival records be authoritative and dependable, but they should also be available to anyone anywhere.