This month, Mary Ann Dav­i­son looks at the world be­yond your lo­cal county ar­chive

Your Family History - - Contents -

Mary Ann Dav­i­son ex­plores the va­ri­ety of spe­cial­ist archives.

The first stop on a fam­ily his­to­rian’s re­search trip is of­ten the lo­cal au­thor­ity record of­fice. This is un­der­stand­able, given the num­ber of rel­e­vant records held there – bap­tism, mar­riage and burial reg­is­ters, for ex­am­ple, and cen­sus re­turns, trade di­rec­to­ries, and so on. There are, how­ever, many other ar­chive repos­i­to­ries that may con­tain use­ful in­for­ma­tion on your an­ces­tors, some of which could prove to be won­der­fully fas­ci­nat­ing and quirky.

If you know some­thing of the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of the fam­ily mem­ber, you could con­tact the school and/or fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion he or she may have at­tended. Many school archives, if they are still ex­tant, will be at the lo­cal record of­fice but a lot of pri­vate schools main­tain their archives on-site. The ar­chiv­ists at Manch­ester Gram­mar School, where I worked un­til this month, re­ceive many en­quiries from fam­ily his­to­ri­ans, seek­ing con­fir­ma­tion that one of their male an­ces­tors at­tended the school. If we can con­firm that he did, we should be able to pro­vide a copy of the chap’s en­try in the ad­mis­sion reg­is­ter – this pro­vides use­ful in­for­ma­tion such as par­ent’s name (usu­ally the fa­ther), pre­vi­ous school, home ad­dress, and dates of en­try and exit from the school. Ad­di­tion­ally, we may be able to find his name in the form lists (lists of boys in each form/class, ranked in or­der of aca­demic per­for­mance) and will run his name through our digi­tised school mag­a­zines in case he did any­thing of note to fea­ture in there. De­pend­ing on the dates con­cerned, we may even have pho­to­graphs.

Here is another ex­am­ple from a place in which I have worked. Re­searchers who dis­cover their an­ces­tors at­tended an in­sti­tu­tion such as the Royal North­ern Col­lege of Mu­sic could find them­selves with not only de­tails from the ad­mis­sion reg­is­ters but also con­cert pro­grammes and per­for­mance pho­to­graphs to add to their find­ings. It re­ally is ex­cit­ing to be able to add such de­tails to the more fun­da­men­tal data such as dates of birth, bap­tism, mar­riage, death and burial.

There is a very in­ter­est­ing web­site – www. com­mu­nit­ – which is worth ex­plor­ing for de­tails of a wide range of ar­chive col­lec­tions, some of which could prove use­ful for your fam­ily his­tory re­search. There are de­tails of a project fo­cus­ing on Prim­i­tive Methodists, an ar­chive of oral his­to­ries from Am­ble­side, and an East London Peo­ple’s Ar­chive, to name just a few. You can sim­ply browse what is on of­fer, do a gen­eral search, or you can search by geo­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion. Some­times con­duct­ing fam­ily his­tory re­search is as much about build­ing up a pic­ture of an area and its his­tory as much as it is about each in­di­vid­ual and so web­sites such as this one are in­valu­able.

You can see, then, that broad­en­ing the scope of your re­search be­yond the lo­cal record of­fice could prove to be fas­ci­nat­ing and worth­while. Of course, such re­search has a higher risk of re­turn­ing no re­sults as the records are more di­verse but I would strongly ar­gue that the risk is worth tak­ing, such is the unique na­ture of what you might dis­cover.

It is ex­cit­ing to add de­tails such as per­for­mances to the more fun­da­men­tal data

The Com­mu­nity Archives and Her­itage Group web­site

is an archivist and free­lance writer who cur­rently works as Archives and Lo­cal Stud­ies Man­ager at Tame­side Archives and Lo­cal Stud­ies. She has worked in lo­cal au­thor­ity, higher ed­u­ca­tion and spe­cial­ist archives set­tings. If there’s an is­sue you’d like Mary Ann to cover, email us at yfh@his­to­ry­mags. or find her on Twit­ter: @ma­davi­son Mary Ann Dav­i­son

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