From the Te Ara inbox

Water race on the Otago goldfields (click for image credit)

Water race on the Otago goldfields (click for image credit)

Those of us who work behind the scenes at Te Ara have an interesting range of jobs that include responding to the many comments and enquiries we receive through our inbox. Occasionally we get fan mail: just yesterday one user wrote that he had just discovered our website while searching for information about gold in Otago. He commented that Te Ara ‘is an amazing website with a ridiculous amount of content’ and added that it ‘deserves more recognition’. We couldn’t agree more – emails like this really make our day!

Often, however, people are after information or help – asking us to identify an unusual bird, spider or some other critter (we have no scientists on staff, so have to refer these queries to other experts), seeking permission to reproduce our text or images, or wanting clarification of a point of fact. Recently I corresponded with the president of the New Zealand Horse Network, who wanted to know the exact date horses first arrived in New Zealand – was it 22 or 23 December 1814? It turns out that our entry on horses says it was the 22nd, whereas the entry in the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand says the 23rd. After some to-ing and fro-ing, we concluded that the first horses arrived by ship at the Bay of Islands on 22 December, but were unloaded the next day.

Speaking of the 1966 Encyclopedia, many people assume its entries are up to date, though of course they were written nearly 50 years ago. Often the information they give is still very relevant, while sometimes it is clearly outdated but of historical interest. We present these entries on the Te Ara website as ‘a blast from the past’, and have a policy of not updating or correcting them, reasoning that people who are following up a particular topic will be keen to compare different perspectives over time. We do have a disclaimer on each page which warns users that the ’66 entries have been superseded, but sometimes people do not read it and write in complaining that material is out of date or incorrect. As a result, we are currently looking at design enhancements to make the disclaimer more prominent.

We are, however, always interested to hear from users who can help us make our Te Ara or Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entries more accurate or informative. As someone who was lucky enough to work on the original DNZB project, I am always particularly delighted when someone, usually a family member, writes in to offer us a photograph of a biography subject. Just before Christmas, I had a nice exchange with an Englishman married to a descendant of Sophia Louisa Taylor. Not only did he draw our attention to the existence of a lovely portrait of Sophia, he pointed out an error in the biography. This currently states that Sophia ‘was a domineering mother who thought nobody good enough for her daughters, although she was a disappointed when they did not marry.’ As my correspondent noted, one of them did in fact marry, as his wife is a great-granddaughter of Sophia! I checked back to our paper file and found that this information was known to our researchers back in the 1990s, but for some reason did not make it into the entry. We will be correcting the text shortly, and will follow up the portrait, which shows Sophia to be as beautiful as she was strong-willed.

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