Family History Collections Archives


A Report of our Group Visit to the London Metropolitan Archives, 16 January

banner1 A Report of our Group Visit to the London Metropolitan Archives, 16 January

A visit to the London Metropolitan Archives Business Collections and Pension Archive may not sound the most stimulating afternoon out, but those members who did attend were treated to a glimpse of a treasure trove of historical and genealogical gems.

It is easy to think of a business collection being little more than a list of dull company financial and employee records. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the archivist stressed that not only have few such records have survived, but are mostly subject to the 100 year privacy rules.  Whereas there is a wealth of people information in other ‘unofficial’ documents such as employee photographs, local authority licensing and building records, factory production records, company sports club records, etc etc etc. Just one example of an unusual source of names came from the County of London Electricity Company archives.  They regularly published a news magazine throughout the Second World War, listing employees who had been called up for active service, taken prisoner of war, were missing or had been killed in action. These magazines also provided a sharp reminder of some of the wartime hardships when, for example, they apolo-gised for the size of the magazine because they couldn’t obtain enough paper!

Many readers will be aware of the extensive Sun Insurance records held by the LMA’s sister library at the Guildhall, listing policy holders and their addresses. I always assumed, erroneously, that these policies only applied to London, but in fact the Sun Insurance records also cover other parts of the UK. However, for the historian, there are even more fascinating documents in the Sun records. For example, we had the privilege of looking at a thick notebook written in 1868, from their Damascus office, describing that town in the utmost detail, yet most succinctly. Water supplies; abundant. Housing; miserable in the Christian and Jewish quarters. The ledger went on, page after page, to describe in detail the businesses, building construction, the infrastructure and a host of other information. Where else could one find such a detailed contemporaneous account of life in Damascus at that time.

Space does not allow a description of the many other examples that the archivist had provided for our interest, but clearly time spent exploring the LMA catalogue for such unusual and unex-pected records could be rewarding for both the historian and the genealogist. To help in this task, the LMA are producing a Guide To Business Records later this year.

We were also treated to a glimpse behind the scenes of the conservation work that is constantly being undertaken. One example that we were able to see, and almost touch, was a mediaeval Royal Charter of one of the City Livery Companies. One thing that become clear, talking to the conservator, was that in spite of the development of modern scientific materials and processes, conservation was still very much an art. But they still use handmade mulberry paper which, ap-parently, cannot be obtained anywhere else in the world except Japan. Its principal properties being it’s light weight and great strength from its fibrous construction.

Neither were there any standard conservation procedures, other than to do the minimum; conservation, not restoration.  Each document’s requirement was unique and only decided after it had been examined. Conservation practice has changed over the decades to today’s minimalist ap-proach which comprises just enough to support the document. The main object being to reduce long term damage and to ensure repairs are reversible. Indeed, much earlier conservation work now requires revisiting because of the further damage it caused.

A fascinating afternoon well spent and I would commend this visit to everyone should the opportunity arise to repeat it in the future.

-Barry Hepburn

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Society of Genealogists update to SoG Data Online

Tim Lawrence , Head of Library Services at the Society of Genealogists has just informed me that he has finished uploading the following family history datasets to SoG Data Online. These can be searched  by members through the Society’s website www.sog.org.uk  following the links to MySoG. Non members can of course make a free search to see if the family surnames they are interested in are represented within any of the datasets.

Datasets now on  SoG Data Online:

Boyd’s Marriage Index (Main series and 1st Miscellaneous Series)

Boyd’s London burials

PCC wills 1750-1800

Vicar General marriage licence allegations index

Faculty Office marriage licence allegations index

St Leonard’s Shoreditch burials 1805-1858

St Andrew Holborn marriages 1754-1812

The following datasets which contain a a large number of  image files will be added to the Society Of Genealogists website more gradually. The completion date for this is May 2011, However, all can now be searched on www.findmypast.co.uk :

Apprentices of Great Britain

Boyd’s Family Units

Boyd’s London Inhabitants

Teachers Registration Council

Trinity House Calendars

Bank of England Wills

The addition of Boyd’s marriage index, by far the largest dataset, has slowed the search engine down slightly but Tim and his team are investigating this and will, hopeful ly, sort the problem out soon.

Tim also tells me he will be publishing more detailed information about each individual data set shortly so do keep an eye on the blog for this news.

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Devon wills in the Society of Genealogists’ family history library

Anyone researching their family history in Devon will regret the loss of much of the county’s probate material in the 2nd world war. However the Society of Genealogist’s family history library in London holds indexes and transcripts of a number of Devon wills that were made before the loss, and some of these have now been made available on the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.

The Fothergill collection is a typical example. It was compiled in the early 1900s by Gerald Fothergill (1870-1926), an eminent genealogist and historian who lived in London. It is not clear why he compiled abstracts of sundry Devon wills, but he evidently went to Exeter and Taunton to study and abstract them, since almost all were proved and kept in one or other of those places. The abstracts can be found in the Middle library and an online index can be searched here.

Another book at the Society lists wills and administrations proved or granted at the Peculiar Court of the Dean of Exeter, from the 1630s to 1857.  All the original probate copies of wills proved in this court were destroyed in 1942.  This list therefore presents (with a few exceptions) the only surviving evidence that well over a thousand Devon individuals did in fact leave wills or had their estates administered.

The jurisdiction of the Dean’s Court covered the parish of Braunton (north-west of Barnstaple) and the Cathedral Close.  The latter area seems not to have been an actual parish, but merely the area immediately around the cathedral in Exeter.  Many of those who lived in the Cathedral Close worked in or for the cathedral in some way. The index can be searched here.

A third work lists wills and administrations proved or granted at the Peculiar Court of the Vicars Choral of Exeter, from the 1630s to 1857.  How and why the singing men in the choir at Exeter Cathedral came to have their own court is not known. Woodbury, the only parish which came under their jurisdiction, is a large one, not far south-east of Exeter.  An average of about four wills/administrations per year were dealt with, though this varied depending upon the time period. The index can be searched here.

The Devon Wills Project is seeking to gather details of as many Devon wills as possible and the Society is grateful for their help in compiling these indexes..

Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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Tracing your Wiltshire ancestors with the Society of Genealogists

The Society of Genealogists houses the finest collection of family history records in the country. However in addition to its physical library in London it also makes some of its records available to Members over the internet.

One set of records to be found on the Members’ Area of its website will be of particular interest to those with Wiltshire ancestry. The Wiltshire Wills’ Beneficiaries Index was originally created by Mary Trace and Pat Wilson who donated it to the Society a number of years ago. It is particularly useful to family historians as it lists not just the testator (the person making the will) but also the beneficiaries (those who were left bequests).

Covering thousands of wills, administrations & other probate records of Wiltshire people for the period 1800-1858, the index lists the beneficiary’s relationship to the deceased, his/her place of residence and occupation (if this was recorded in the original document). However it does NOT contain details of the bequests themselves – for this you will need to view the original (held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre).

Non-members can carry out a basic search here but to view the full record you will need to be a member of the Society of Genealogists

Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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Was your ancestor a Polish immigrant to England?

If so you may find him/her mentioned in the Polish collection held at the Society of Genealogists family history library in London. These records were compiled by Antoni and Stella Szachnowski, members of the Catholic Family History Society, and donated to the Society of Genealogists in November 1999.

An index to part of the collection is now available on the Members Area of the SoG website. The first section (Polish Subsistence) includes returns of Polish refugees receiving assistance from the Grant voted by Parliament between 1838 and 1841.

The second section (Polish genealogy) covers a diverse range of records listing Polish immigrants. These include entries from the registers of the Chapel of the Virgin Mary of Czestochowa, baptisms from St Peter Apostulate, Electoral rolls for St Pancras (1891), Lambeth (1891), St Marylebone (1892) and Westminster Borough (1908), plus entries from the1841 Census of Portsea in Hampshire, the Polish Refugee Hospital  and naturalisation records.

Two further boxes of correspondence and papers assembled by Mr and Mrs Szachnowski but not indexed on the Members’ Area can be found amongst the Society’s Special Collections.

To search the above records click here. To view the full details you will need to be a member of the Society of Genealogists.

Tim Lawrence (Head of Library Services)

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