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UK's Ministry of Justice Plans To Digitize Then Destroy 100 Million Historical Wills

22 Dec 2023 8:16 AM | Anonymous

"The Ministry of Justice is consulting on digitizing and then throwing away about 100 million paper originals of the last wills and testaments of British people dating back more than 150 years in an effort to save 4.5 million pounds a year," reports Robert Booth via The Guardian. Leading historians are calling these plans "sheer vandalism" and "insane." From the report: 

Ministers believe digitisation will speed up access to the papers, but the proposal has provoked a backlash among historians and archivists who took to X to decry it as "bananas" and "a seriously bad idea." The government is proposing to keep the originals of some wills of "famous people" -- likely including those of Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Diana, Princess of Wales -- but others would be destroyed after 25 years and only a digital copy would be kept. It is feared that wills of ordinary people, some of whom may become historically significant in the future, risk being lost.

Wills are considered essential documents, particularly for social historians and genealogists, as they capture what people considered important at the time and reveal unknown family links. The proposal comes amid growing concern at the fragility of digital archives, after a cyber-attack on the British Library left the online catalogue and digitized documents unavailable to users since late October. 

"We are advocates of digitization but not at the cost of destroying originals," says Natalie Pithers, interim co-chief executive of the Society of Genealogists. "In any digitization projects mistakes get made. We don't know what further information could be gained in the future from the original documents. There could be somebody in there who did something extraordinary."

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