The archive contained 65,000 documents, the oldest coming from the year 922. The archive’s holdingsmore than 16 miles of filesincluded tens of thousands of maps, photos, posters and one-of-a-kind artifacts from the Middle Ages. The collection was valued at $500 million, according to Welt.
The city archive, which first found a place in Cologne city hall in 1406, withstood World War II with no losses. Officials say the building fell into a crater created by work on a nearby subway line. The building that collapsed was built in 1971. According to Wikipedia, it was built with an estimated service life of only 30 years. The archive reached its holding capacity in 1996; some material has been removed for storage elsewhere.
While emergency workers attempted to stabilize the building with concrete, about 100 volunteers have pitched in to save valuable documents from the rubble since Tuesday night, according to a city press release. A small portion of the archives was in an unharmed area of the building. Rain is expected over the next few days, so a temporary roof will be set up over the collapse site to attempt to save more documents.
Hamburg genealogist Andrea Bentschneider did research at the Cologne archive once and describes its holdings as “gigantic.”
The collapse comes at an especially bad time, she says, because German privacy law recently changed to allow easier access to civil records. The city archive of Cologne had announced that as of this month, all death records up to 1978, marriage records before 1928 and birth records before 1898 would be available for research without restriction.
“We can only hope that these civil records as well as all other records were secured and saved on microfilm or a similar medium. Otherwise 1,000 years of Cologne’s history may be lost forever,” Bentschneider says.
It seems that much of the archive’s content may be safe. Welt reports that former city archive head says a large part of the archives pre-1945 files were microfilmed; the backups are stored in the Barbarastollen archive in the Black Forest.
And FamilySearch filmed 171 rolls of film from the Cologne archive in 1984, says public affairs manager Paul Nauta. The library has been able to help other archives before by providing copies of the lost documents. FamilySearchs holdings include these items from the Cologne archive:
- Genealogy and coast of arms 1350-1880
- Tax lists 1487-1703
- Orphans house registers 1592-1788
- Soldier pay records 1552-1613
- Court records, inheritance and land 1220-1798
- Court minutes 1413-1652
- Town council minutes 1440-1653
“This is one of the clarion calls for why preservation services offered by FamilySearch and other like organizations can be so critical. Most genealogy consumers are aware of the convenient access value, but the tragedy of the Cologne archive reiterates the value for preservation,” Nauta says.