Nicole Llewellyn is the manager of the Reading Room at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV) overseeing a staff of nine people. One of her main interests is to make the PROV's website easier to navigate and over a period of time to have all the public records digitised.
Because it is a very slow process, only 1% of material held by the PROV has been digitised. The Melbourne City Council Rate Books for example took three months to scan. New records arrive continually although some records like those from the Bush Fire Royal Commissison arrive in a digitised form.
Digitising of popular Indexes has a high priority, followed by damaged records and records on microform. Badly damaged or wet records need to be preserved first before they can be scanned and then the preserved records are bagged up for storage. The PROV works with Melbourne University's conservation department - 'The Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation.'
Depending on the quality of the microform records, either the microforms themselves are scanned or if the clarity is poor then the original records are scanned. Digitising is by overhead cameras or scanners. Rate books are copied using a camera but the inquest records VPRS 24 were copied using a scanner.
It is permissible to use your own digital camera at the PROV. Microfiche records which are viewed on a reader connected to a computer can be copied and saved to a USB, so you can take your own USB or purchase one in the Reading Room for $ 7.95.
Digitised records can be viewed online but other records must be viewed at the PROV in North Melbourne. Before arriving at the Victorian Archives Centre, records can be pre-ordered by browsing their online catalogue. A maximum number of 24 records can be ordered at one time although there is a limit of 8 items which can be retrieved from storage at a time. This means that several visits to the PROV are required to view all 24 items, or allowance should be made for 3 deliveries, each one containing 8 items. If an order for 24 items is made online on a Saturday, then all will have been delivered by 10 am on the following Wednesday. The items are made available for 10 working days.
Whilst at the PROV if it becomes apparent that the wrong item has been ordered staff will retrieve the correct one so a return trip isn't necessary. If it is impossible to actually travel to the PROV, staff will copy records, there being a minimum fee of $ 14.75. Catalogues online are open for anyone to browse, however if an item is to be ordered then registration is required. This simply means creating a username and password and this can be done online. You then have a history of what you have ordered under your name.
Nicole gave a demonstration on how to create an account, how to access a Will and Probate record 1841 - 1925 ( available for viewing online ) and a Will and Probate record 1926 - 2007 which needs to be viewed at the PROV. To order a Will between 1926 and 1992 the reference number and year of probate must be found on the 'Probate Index Victoria' microfiche. As well as the Victorian Archives Centre Reading Room these microfiche are found at the State Library of Victoria and many local libraries.
For records from 1970 - 2007, consult the Supreme Court of Victoria's online index which is found under Wills and Probate Records at the PROV's website. It is advisable to start any search using the surname only.
Nicole also discussed accessing Inquests Post Mortem 1840 - 1985 and Shipping Indexes. To order an Inquest, it is necessary to have the full name of the deceased, reference number of the Inquest and year in which the Inquest was held. This information is found on the 'Inquest Index' in the PROV Reading Room and also at some local libraries. Again it is necessary to log in to make the order. Some Inquests come with disturbing photos and this is indicated on the collected item. A private area will be provided to view them or they can be removed temporarily whilst the Inquest itself is read.
The PROV was established under the 'Public Records Act' of 1973 and is responsible for the preservation of State Government records which pertain to the status and rights of Victorians. The records relate to information gathered by government bodies which manage or regulate such things as schools, the judicial system, immigration, health and welfare and are retained for research whether it be for historical, genealogical or for other reasons. The records date from the 1830s to the present day.
Records are arranged as they were created by the people who were originally using them rather than by subject matter and are kept in their original order so that a researcher can establish events as they happened.
Also standards are set and instructions are provided to government bodies and local councils regarding preservation of permanent records and appropriate disposal methods for temporary records.
These records hold a wealth of information, and the staff at the PROV Reading Room are very obliging in advising what records to search for.
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