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Author: Tara Oldfield
Back when Millie Marsh and John MacKinnon began volunteering at Public Record Office Victoria (PROV), the Victorian Archives Centre in North Melbourne didn’t even exist.
At the suggestion of his wife, John MacKinnon signed up for the PROV volunteer program early in 1989, indexing shipping records at PROV’s City Search Room in Little Bourke Street, and later in Casselden Place. Millie just missed out on a Melbourne CBD spot, instead volunteering to travel to the PROV Storage Repository and Reading Room in Laverton.
Millie was already familiar with the collection due to her own family history research, while John has gone onto volunteer at Births, Deaths & Marriages as well, further cementing his love of archival records and history.
From 1989 until about 2012 the volunteer team worked mostly on indexing shipping lists.
“We wrote them out by hand, in pencil. One person did the computer in the City and so all the work that we did had to go from Laverton to the City for that one person to do all the typing,” Millie says.
One year’s work was one year’s worth of shipping lists. The end of year celebrations allowed volunteers from both locations to come together and toast to another year’s worth of indexing ready for researchers. Millie says she and John are the only two original volunteers still at PROV who worked on the shipping indexing project from the very beginning. Others joined along the way.
Since then they’ve worked on numerous other projects including land and legal files, and in 2000 the Laverton and CBD locations were moved to the current Victorian Archives Centre site in North Melbourne.
“As PROV has grown new projects have come up,” John says.
Both volunteers are currently working on indexing civil case files with a much larger team of around 200 volunteers. The civil case files project has seen John and Millie go from indexing delicate handwritten records from the 1850s through to typed files from the 1950s.
While Millie loves deciphering the handwritten records, John says it’s a thrill to see records from the 1950s, bringing back memories of names and events of the time.
When asked what keeps them both coming back, John mentioned the unexpected finds while Millie spoke of loving the challenge and being able to contribute her skills.
“While we’re here we would rather do it, and do it now, because we can,” Millie says.
Happy 30 years to both and a big thank you for your contribution to the archives!