Like many archives around the UK and the world, Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives has been looking for ways to continue working and engaging the public from home. Part of this initiative has been the Harbour Arrivals transcription project.
In 2019, the Archive received a donation of material from the Aberdeen Harbour Board and successfully applied for an Archives Revealed grant from the National Archives to catalogue it. The donation consisted of paperwork, photographic material and a large collection of ledgers. One set of ledgers shows the arrivals of ships into Aberdeen Harbour. The 151 volumes from 1831-1957 record the ship’s name, home port, master, the port which it has sailed from, the cargo and the day’s weather. They are a great way to understand how commerce in Aberdeen has changed over time and can also reveal key trading and sailing routes.
The project was created in conjunction with a local charity, Code the City, who aim to develop open data and digital skills. Transcription was originally intended to be part of the physical Code the City 19 (CTC19) event in April 2020 but in anticipation of the nationwide lockdown restrictions, it was decided to move entirely online.
Although it would have been amazing to transcribe them all, this could have potentially taken years. Instead we chose a block from 1914-1920 which were particularly special as the clerk decided to create a day to day record of the events of the First World War that will allow us to see the impact of the conflict on the city.
In the week before we were required to work from home, each individual page (all 649 of them) was photographed from 1914-1920 and uploaded to the Google Sheets system which had been set up by Ian Watt, Code the City CEO. This meant that we had a large amount of material which could be worked on for an extended period.
After creating a set of guidelines and helpful links, we invited the public to work on transcribing and checking entries from March 27th using two Google Sheets and Slack to keep in contact. As the online CTC19 event was scheduled for 11-12th April, this allowed us two weeks to create enough data to be useful to the coders over the official weekend. The data which had been transcribed was used to create a website by Andrew Sage of Code the City. His hard work means that we can now see information in a collated and organised way – this has been extremely useful to inform other transcriptions as well as understanding what information we have got. So far, we have managed to fully complete 1914 and are working through the remaining years.
The arrivals transcription project started as a great way to highlight an important time in the history of the Harbour which has always been a big part of Aberdeen. However, given current circumstances, it has also become a great opportunity to give people something to focus on whilst they are home. We encourage anyone to join in regardless of archival or maritime experience.
The project is still in progress and can be accessed here.
Mollie Horne, Project Archivist, Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives