Red Cross records — will they be made available?

Genealogy research textbooks have sometimes mentioned the Red Cross records in Geneva, but usually with the caution that though they could have a lot of important family history information, the public was not allowed access to them.

Now, it seems, there has been a breach in the dyke, and a historian has been allowed to use them for research into a war grave.

BBC NEWS | UK | Piecing together the past:

Peter Barton was commissioned to carry out research into the identities of World War I casualties discovered in a mass grave at Fromelles in France. He was given access to the basement of the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva. There, he was allowed to examine records that have lain virtually untouched since 1918.

The Red Cross has accumulated enormous quantities of records that could allow people to trace missing relatives — not only the war dead, but displaced people, refugees and others who have lost touch with family and home after wars, revolutions and other political upheavals.

No doubt the Red Cross doesn’t have the facilities for accommodating large numbers of researchers at its headquarters in Geneva, but perhaps this breakthrough could inspire the hope that they might allow a body like the LDS Church to make copies of some of the earlier records, and make them available to researchers that way.

Here’s an abstract of an article about these records:

Chapman, Colin, 1994. The Central Tracing Agency of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in Family Tree magazine, Vol. 10(7) May. Page 21-22.

The Red Cross was formed in 1863 to care for those wounded in wars, and during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 it formed the Trieste Agency to deal with queries about sick and wounded soldiers. In 1914 the ICRC set up an International Prisoners of War Agency in Geneva. Similar records have been kept for subsequent confilicts and the Central Tracing Agency now has 60 million personal records with names of prisoners, refugees and missing persons. These records are not open to the public, and the Red Cross does not have staff to deal with any queries except for those from immediate family members.

See also this article: BBC NEWS | Europe | Red Cross files reveal WWI cost:

The United Nations considers the Red Cross archive so important that it has incorporated it into Unesco’s Memory of the World programme, declaring it the archive equivalent of a World Heritage Site.

‘These archives testify to the suffering of war. It’s evidence of the fate of millions of people, not just those directly affected, but the relatives and friends as well,’ says Unesco’s Ingeborg Breines.

‘And it’s a huge resource for historical researchers, and for people tracing their genealogy,’ she says.

Amazing serendipity!

Today I was in the Tshwane archives, looking up Devantiers.

I ordered file WLD 1184/74, the divorce of Carol Lynne Devantier and Peter Dudley Devantier, and the Box was marked Illiquid Cases 1974 1183/1194, so the second file in the box should have been the one I was looking for.

But instead it turned out to be the divorce of Roland Eric de la Harpe and Wendy Lynne de la Harpe.

Its number was 1284/74, and it had obviously been misfiled in the wrong box.

Well, that happens. People do sometimes put thing is the wrong boxes, and of course if anyone had looked for that file, they would never have found it.

The serendipity is that Roland Eric de la Harpe and Wendy Lynn Boyle happen to be related to us, so we might well have been the ones looking for that file.

So I made notes from it — details of the marriage and divorce dates etc., (some of the information we had was wrong).

Then I wondered what to do with the file. I shouldn’t put it back in the wrong box. If I took it to someone at the counter it would probably require long explanations. Eventually I thought the simplest thing to do would be simply to order the file. When the box came, I just put it back in its right place and handed it back again.