Usually when I blog, I blog about freely available resources of interest to the family historian. Sometimes, however, I come across a paid resource which makes my mouth water. And today I found one such resource: the British Online Archive. It’s a whopping £20 a week, or £40 a month, which is eye-watering. However, if you were researching a family with links to the slave trade, or with a link to the early years of the BBC, or something specific which is covered by their archive, it might be worth paying the money to see whether there was anything of interest to your family within.
The About page is a little cagey about their background; maybe they expect everyone to be familiar with who they are… what they claim to be is “the primary source publisher” (my bold, their italics), and their offering is aimed directly at the academic researcher in universities and libraries. But their catalogue is well laid out, and one to attract anyone with an interest in social history. Some of the items will be interesting to a researcher looking at a particular family, for example the Tarleton family of Liverpool.
The portrait of Banastre Tarleton above is by Joshua Reynolds, and is in the public domain and comes courtesy of Wikimedia commons. It’s often the case that a picture which the National Portrait Gallery or National Gallery would charge you to use, will be freely available for use from wikipedia or wikimedia – they are a great resource for family historians. In America, you cannot copyright a photograph where the image is just an out-of-copyright work of art. In the UK that isn’t the case, a photograph of a painting or artwork which is in the public domain can be copyrighted in its own right, and it is this that the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery rely on when the ask for donations in return for downloads of works of art that are in the public domain.
I don’t think this is fair, especially since the objects in the two galleries belong to the nation. However, when I wanted to use a particular picture from the National Portrait Gallery in relation to a small display in a Quaker Meeting House, of Benjamin West, the painter, after being quoted £29 for use of the picture, I then found it free and in the public domain from an American gallery. So if you have a particular painting in mind for background or to illustrate a point in your family history, it’s always worth doing a search for it.
Back to the British Online Archive. There are 81 collections at the moment, and three million records, and I guess that number will grow over time.