The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has just completed its biggest ever records management project. Finding Records is a new website that allows users to find, read, download and print detailed guides to the collections of historical paper-based records related to former Victorian wards of the state and care leavers.
The huge legacy of historical records (most transferred from former Victorian institutions) previously filled 31,000 shelves in the DHHS archives. Row-after-row they stretched for 27.7 kilometres.
As institutions throughout Victoria closed records arrived by the truckload and eventually there were more than 88,000 boxes of records, including thousands of big leather-bound registers dating back 150 years. Most of the consignments arrived without labels, content lists or obvious organisation systems.
Many former care leavers discovered the extent of the challenge when they applied for their records and were inexplicably disappointed with what they received. As for archivists searching for the ‘needle in a haystack’, the challenge was almost unassailable.
Once the records project received funding, it took more than three years to appraise, index and cross-reference the huge historical legacy of more than one million records, including more than 250,000 index cards and 1,500 registers that were digitised. All records relating to former Victorian wards of the state and care leavers from the departmental archive have now been moved to either the Public Records Office Victoria or to secure commercial storage.
Of course, paper records will always have to be retrieved by hand. But now the department’s electronic records management system holds key identifying data, making the 2000-plus collections more easily searchable and able to locate.
Already, Freedom of Information searches are achieving better results and care leavers are receiving more records than ever before.
If you were disappointed with your earlier search results, think about trying again. If the department has your records, there is now a much better chance of finding them.
Author: Chris Hofmann
Chris is the Manager Statewide Services & Storage, Department of Health & Human Services.