Archivist sets the records straight

Janette Pelosi is helping Aussies uncover their convict connections, writes Carolyn Rance.

Janette Pelosi is helping Aussies uncover their convict connections, writes Carolyn Rance.

Decades ago, Australians were sometimes reluctant to admit to convict ancestry. Today, it's more likely to be a source of pride, especially for anyone interested in genealogy.

Finding the details of people transported to New South Wales - often for crimes that would now be regarded as petty offences motivated by poverty or hunger - became easier this year when the State Records Authority of NSW launched Sentenced beyond the Seas.

Under the project, co-ordinated by senior archivist, historian and genealogist Janette Pelosi, Australia's earliest convict records were digitised and indexed. Colour images of the lists and personal details of convicts who arrived here from 1788 to 1801 were then put online for easy access.

Although most of the people who use public records in Australia are researching a family history, giving them resources and assistance is not the primary role of record-keeping authorities. The National Archives of Australia in Canberra, the State Records Authority of NSW and its counterparts in other states and territories manage current, as well as past, government records.

They develop and manage standards and guidelines on the preservation of records, and provide guidance to the public sector on all aspects of record keeping and management.

Their websites include information for agencies that may be called on to provide information to, say, the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, with warnings that any of the records must not be destroyed.

Pelosi and her fellow archivists in the public, community and private sectors constantly work to ensure records providing authentic evidence of administrative, corporate, cultural and intellectual activity are made, kept and used.

Determining what must be kept and what can be discarded is a professional skill guided by a framework of Commonwealth and state legislation and regulation.

Pelosi studied history at the University of Sydney before working as a librarian. Her interest in information management and record keeping prompted her to then study archives administration.

Her career has spanned the changeover from paper to digital record keeping and, like most archivists, she has been involved in making decisions about which older records warrant digitisation and how best to ensure the safe preservation of records created in the digital age.

"We have set up a digital archive and can now receive them as digital transfers, document them and link them to our control systems so they can be found again and be an authentic record in digital form," she says.

LINKS: archivists.org.au; records.nsw.gov.au.

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