THE SECRET ARCHIVIST
This month, Mary Ann Davison looks at the world beyond your local county archive
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. communityarchives.org.uk – 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. co.uk or find her on Twitter: @madavison Mary Ann Davison