More than publications – using to see the past

One consequence of carrying out family history research which I hadn’t expected was an increasing level of curiosity about how my ancestors lived. So many questions: why did they move?  When was the railway built?  How did they travel?  What even would they have talked about?  What did their day-to-day work and family lives involve? What did they look like? What did they see when they went about their lives?

This week saw the creation of a new group on Facebook:  Ancestors – Social History & Law which was created in response to a comment in another group. Ideal!

One member of this new group shared a link to Internet Archive: which I’d come across once or twice but don’t use regularly – so many sites to refer to, so little time…

Photo of Mousehole Harbour at low tide

Mousehole Harbour at low tide

I’m lucky with my Cornish family in that there are fantastic enthusiastic archivists and societies in Cornwall. Specifically relevant for me are those records relating to Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole.  But I love film – it’s very important to me, much more so than the written word, and I find it so much easier to remember  information learnt on film rather than to absorb words from a page.

So I thought I’d give the Internet Archive films a go. So when searching in the film lists for names in my research I first tried ‘Newlyn’ and struck out, tried ‘Penzance’ and received too many ‘Pirates of Penzance’ suggestions, then tried Mousehole and – jackpot! – I found: Mrs. Spencer [United Kingdom vacation] from circa 1930. Although loading at glacial speed, to my delight it opened with shots of Newlyn streets and the harbour, which looked really empty with fewer piers and just a few ships. This was followed by views of Mousehole harbour and streets – so different from the well-maintained village of today.

So if you’ve not come across Internet Archive why not give it a shot? In addition to film and books it has photos and audio that could give you a view – or a voice – linking you to your family.

© Lynne Black, 15 March 2016
First published on


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