You can’t get more retro than Jersey Archive, which stores the island’s written history – all 600 years of it.  From a signed copy of the King’s speech (yes, that one) to witch trials and scandals aplenty, it’s all housed in the sleek architectural lines of the Jersey Archive. Linda Romeril, Head of Archives and Collections was on hand to spill the island’s secrets.

We just love facts and figures at Gallery – how many archives does the Jersey archive have?
There are 300,000 different volumes, files and papers dating back to 1378.
Yup. That’s pretty impressive. So was Jersey good at keeping records?
In some ways. Before 1993 there wasn’t an official archive, so records were stored all over the island, in States departments and parish halls. Normally to save space, archives get put in the cellar where it’s damp and mouldy so we lose them. We’ve been lucky in that so much has survived.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever discovered?
We came across some lab slides containing some rather unusual medical samples that were used in an old court case – I won’t go into any more detail!
(Intrigued and slightly disappointed) Oh. Can you tell us the next strangest thing?
A woman in Australia contacted us about her great great grandmother who’d been sent there as a convict from Jersey.  She never knew the reason why. We discovered that her relative had been a notorious brothel keeper in St Helier and had murdered a Centenier who was trying to close the brothel down!  We were a bit nervous about passing the information on, but thankfully she was quite excited to find out her great great grandmother’s history.
It sounds fascinating…
It is. The archives are about stories.  When you come across a story that’s unusual, it leaps off the page.
How easy is it to trace your family history?
We’re open to the public three days a week, (Tues-Thurs) and then one Saturday a month there’s a ‘What’s your Street’s Story’ lecture on a different area of the island. This month it’s Les Quennevais.
How long does it take?
It depends.  If your family has lived in Jersey and hasn’t moved very far and you want the bare bones, you can get a lot quickly. Then it’s delving deeper to find out the stories – did any of your ancestors end up in to court, were they in hospital, etc.
Are people curious about their history?
Probably around 70% of the people that come here want to find out about their family history. But researching the history of your house is popular too. With family history you always discover things you didn’t know, or find out the truth about family stories that have been passed down…
Give us an example…
One person had a family member that they though had died heroically in the war, but it turned out he didn’t – he’d just left his wife after the war.
The Jersey Archive building is stunning – it’s won lots of design awards. What’s it like working here?
Amazing.  It has lots of design references to the archive – there’s a strip of glass around the central section to make it appear like a floating box of treasures and the divider glass in the reading room features quotes about Jersey.  It’s in the top 10% of archives in the UK.
What do you need to be an archivist?
When I did my archive degree they said you’ve got to be organized and love history and I think I’d add you’ve got to be quite nosy because you’ve also got to enjoy delving and finding out.
What would you have been if you hadn’t become an archivist?
A teacher.
What time period would you have liked to have been around in?
I’m a mediaeval fan, so the 13th, 14th or 15th centuries.
What’s your favourite place in Jersey?
When I came home from university, I always looked forward to seeing Gorey Castle, but I got married in Elizabeth Castle, so I’d have to say that one.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Looking after all this fantastic information for the future, and also seeing people coming in and enjoying finding out more about their past. It’s preserving for the future but also creating access in the present.

 

Who do you think you are? You can find out at Jersey Archive!

Researching your own family history can be a journey of discovery with twists, turns, puzzles and surprises. If you want to find out about your family and the stories that make up Jersey’s history, a great place to start is Jersey Archive.

Before you visit the Archive, write down everything you know about your family – start with your own details and then move on to your parents and grandparents. Pull together full names, dates of birth, marriage and death if possible and any other relevant details such as military service.  On your first visit to the Jersey Archive you will need to bring a passport or driving licence in order to register as a reader. There is no charge for registering or using the Archive to view documents and there’s a team of dedicated, professional staff on hand to help you with your family history queries and show you more about the records they care for.