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The CBA's Community Archaeology Resource
Heritage Toolkit: Make a Cast of Characters

A great project to bring young and older people together

The idea:

People are part of what makes a place special, and they contribute to its unique heritage. Most places have someone everyone knows or remembers - living or dead. You can illuminate the history and meaning of a place by spotlighting some of its people.

How to do it:
Small Mill

Firstly, start with living memory. Talk to older inhabitants about people they remember, such as particular characters who stand out.

Try to answer this set of simple questions about the person:

  • What are the basic facts of this person's life (birth date and place, education, marriage, job, family, where they lived, when and where they died)?
  • If the person is no longer living, try to get a birthdate or address and look the person up in census records or birth, marriage and death records.
  • You can get help in this from your local records office or archive, Local Studies Library or through online resources such as the BBC History website
  • What are they known for locally? Were they an individual doing their own thing or part of a bigger group or community?
  • What does this individual tell us about our place?
  • Write up a snapshot character sketch using memories, reported deeds, stories and sayings of the person concerned and illustrate it with old photos or videos of the character's favourite places. Members of a group might each pick their own person to research or work in small teams to help and support each other.

Now you have a picture of some of the characters in your place.

Ways you can use the Cast of Characters:

You could create a community play or drama based on people's lives: work with your local school to write, produce and perform a play. You could produce a leaflet or publication. You could create a `People's Blue Plaque Trail ', similar to the Commemorative Blue Plaques assigned to buildings. These could be imaginary Blue Plaques, represented in a trail leaflet or guided walk, or actual temporary plaques placed at the right spots as part of an event. If you feel you have found important enough stories, you could talk to bodies such as English Heritage or your local Civic Society to put up permanent plaques.

How about finding out about people further back in history? You might pick names from records you have found - for example, factory owners, farmers, landowners, trade union activists or doctors. Look at local newspaper reports in your record office or Local Studies Library. You may want to find out more about somebody unknown - for example, a child hurt in an industrial accident, or a person sentenced for a minor crime. Again, these results can be used in some of the ways suggested above.

Make sure you tell people - both your neighbours and community, and heritage professionals - what you have found and the significance it has for your place.

Create a project page about your work here on CAF!


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