Sunday, September 30, 2012
Down in the Archives
In early September we spent a week in our capital city, Wellington. Wellington's a great city to visit: compact, set against a stunning harbour, and well-endowed with good cafés. But the main reason for our visit was that it's the home of National Archives.
Archives New Zealand provides excellent facilities for researchers, and the staff are helpful and knowledgeable. Most of the records are stored underground, and fetched to the reading room when ordered by a researcher; anything from the thin, old pages of a handwritten will through to huge volumes that must be nestled on bean bag-type cushions to protect the fragile bindings. But one entire room is devoted to land title records, with all the volumes on open shelves. Here's a small part of the collection:
The land records have a complex indexing system that leads from one hand-written volume to another, then another, and sometimes even further. Having a well-muscled and patient research assistant was a definite asset!
Archives require careful tending, and the atmosphere in the reading rooms was so dry that I'm sure the hours spent there contributed to the bronchitis I came down with soon after our return home. But poring through the records was a fascinating experience, especially when I encountered the signatures (or perhaps a shaky "X") of some of the people I'm researching.
Which leads to a confession: I'm currently writing two books at once. My main project is the sequel to Daisy's War, but at the same time I'm working on a non-fiction book that's unrelated to my novels, other than taking place in New Zealand at a similar period. I've found myself caught up in this real-life story, and in the desire to do it justice.