First World War archives: preservation work leads to interruption of research
Progress of the Project of Preservation and communication of First World War archives leads to interruption in research of individual data.
By starting the digitization of the archives of the International Agency for Prisoners of war (1914-1919) in late 2010, a definite step has been made towards the preservation of these documents, which are protected by Unesco Memory of the World program and meant to be a memorial to the war prisoners of the First World War.
All over the war, the Agency collected, analysed and organized information, which it received from detaining powers and National agencies, on individual enemy prisoners. It was therefore able to match such information with requests from next-of-kin and to restore family links. On the archival level, the Agency has generated with these documents a research system – a manual database - consisting mainly in series of lists, around 500'000 pages, and a card index counting 6 million cards. Research in these archives may be difficult, with many sources to be checked for a single identity, and many hours of work.
Until mid 2011, the ICRC carried out regularly researches in these archives, several hundreds per year, on behalf of family descendents or historians. Because of the quite intense retrieval of items for preservation treatments, organization of research has become more difficult and applicants have to wait for more than a year to obtain information.
With the now growing volume of treatment, and complex workflows to be realized, research activity has to be interrupted until further notice. Consequently, new requests cannot be accepted. Requests received before August 2011 however shall be treated.
The digital copy of these archives will allow the development of more powerful research modes with quicker access and it will enable our partner Institutions and the interested public to do research by their own means through an Internet application.
The project will be concluded in early 2014.