Genealogists have a lot to learn from archivists when it comes to the personal collection of documents we accumulate.
When new materials are received, the first thing an archivist does is record:
- where it came from
- who it belongs to
- roughly what is included
- any legal agreements or conditions of use imposed by the donor
My parents gave me a box of genealogical goodies few months back as they had moved to a smaller residence without stairs. Dad said he doesn’t mind what I do with it. These statements comprise a very informal, and somewhat vague, accession record. When presented with such a collection, we often do not make notes of the provenance or context of the acquisition, but we should.
Accession information is generally included in archive catalogues only as a reference or access category, as some of it may be private e.g. the donor’s identity. Acquired collections may resemble an auction job lot you bought for the one item that was not junk, so they need to be sorted and organised. In archival terms, the collection needs to be arranged.
Archival arrangement collects items together in a way that preserves the provenance and context in which they were created and used. The arrangement is reflected in the structure of the catalogue. Each item is assigned a logical position within a hierarchy of categories. Taking an example from my personal archive, the marriage certificate for Joshua Arthur Smith & Beatrice Elizabeth Davis (RWC/1/4/4), was acquired as part of a discrete bundle from Winifred Clarke (RWC/1/4) in connection with the death of Raymond Walter Coulson (RWC) and filed by his administrator (RWC/1). I sorted the items in Winifred’s bundle by date of creation, as they weren’t in any order.
In a big archive’s online catalogue, you might only see the entry for the marriage certificate, but you need to check the hierarchy to get the full story. My personal catalogue looks like this.
|RWC||Raymond Walter Coulson (1922-1997) collection||Papers, photographs, correspondence, memorabilia and probate documents of Raymond Walter Coulson of 322 Aston Hall Road, Aston, Birmingham, who died intestate on 24 May 1997.|
|RWC/1||Probate file||Compiled by [my dad], administrator for the estate of Raymond Walter Coulson, between May 1997 and January 1998.|
|RWC/1/4||Winifred Clarke late Coulson, nee Smith (1906-1996) collection||Bundle of birth, marriage and death certificates, probate and burial documents, 1 photograph. Given to [my dad] in 1997 by the residential home where Winifred Clarke last resided, as no other relative had claimed them.||1860-1996|
|RWC/1/4/1||Marriage Certificate – George Smith & Clara Webster||20 Jul 1860|
|RWC/1/4/2||Marriage Certificate – Walter Davis & Elizabeth Walton||06 Jul 1874|
|RWC/1/4/3||Birth Certificate – George Edward Coulson||21 Nov 1902|
|RWC/1/4/4||Marriage Certificate – Joshua Arthur Smith & Beatrice Elizabeth Davis||Church of England, St Saviour’s church, Saltley parish, County of Warwick. Original certified copy of the Marriage Register, page 109, no 217, 23 May 1904||23 May 1904|
|RWC/1/4/5||Birth Certificate – Joshua Arthur Smith||28 Aug 1923|
|RWC/1/4/6||Marriage Certificate – George Edward Coulson & Winifred Smith||14 Dec 1929|
|RWC/1/4/7||Death Certificate – George Edward Coulson||04 Feb 1957|
|RWC/1/4/8||Death Certificate – George Edward Coulson||04 Feb 1957|
|RWC/1/4/9||Bill for funeral of George Edward Coulson||22 Feb 1957|
|RWC/1/4/10||Grant of exclusive Right of Burial||01 Mar 1957|
|RWC/1/4/11||Will of Winfred Clarke||14 Jan 1971|
|RWC/1/4/12||First Codicil to Will of Winfred Clarke||16 Nov 1973|
|RWC/1/4/13||Death Registration certificate – Winifred Clarke||03 Jul 1996|
|RWC/1/4/14||photograph – elderly woman & baby||n.d.|
Archival description pulls together the information needed to identify, manage, locate, and interpret the contents of a collection and explains the context of a collection’s creation and functions. Information that applies to a whole group of items is included in the record for that level, becoming more specific at deeper levels of arrangement. My example includes an item level description of the marriage certificate, and how and why it was acquired (i.e. the context) in other levels of the hierarchy.
Genealogical citation geeks may recognise many of the elements of a genealogical citation are included in my catalogue. That makes me wonder why catalogue details are not embedded in digital images of documents we routinely download. Now that would really add value to online data offerings.
Detailed description takes lots of time and archives receive many accessions, so do not expect archive catalogues to contain item level descriptions with names of people. Only very important collections may be fully described.
The collection accumulated by Winifred, known as Winnie, is an excellent springboard for researching her family, particularly the Smith side. If you want to put a face to the name, she featured in ‘Is it George or Jack? Engagement photograph identification’. This collection identifies her parents, grandparents, and all 4 great-grandfathers.
The chart presents Winnie’s relatives and shows people who have had custody of her parent’s marriage certificate (green), and the person whose death lead to its acquisition (red). A bread crumb trail of custody is:
Beatrice & Joshua > Winnie > elderly residential home > Dad > Me
Bride: Beatrice Elizabeth Davis, aged 26
Groom: Joshua Arthur Smith, aged 41
Date: 23 May 1904
Location: St Saviours, Saltley, Warwickshire
Beatrice and Joshua appear on the 1911 census at 13 Ash Tree Cottages, Alum Rock Road, Saltley, Birmingham. The household was headed by Clara Smith, Joshua’s mother and included 4 year old Winifred, the couple’s daughter. I can’t help wondering if the mystery photo of an old woman and baby might be Winnie and her grandma Clara.
The National Archives reference for this census record is RG 14/18172/25. Fancy trying out the catalogue? Can you work out what each of the reference elements means?
The 25 item refers to the number marked on the schedule, a form comprised of one sheet of paper. The catalogue does not include any item level information i.e. individual schedules, but the group of schedules.
|RG||Records of the General Register Office…|
|14||1911 Census Schedules|
|18172||Registration district no 385 (Aston), Registration Sub-District no 1 (Deritend), Enumeration district no 25|
© Sue Adams 2013
George, a tailor aged 27 in 1851, the brother of Edward John/James Adams, a jeweller, discussed in ‘Common Surname Trouble – Adams in Birmingham’, was my hope to identify the next generation back. A convincing case can be made from 1861-1891 census enumerations that a tailor named George Adams, born ca. 1824, married Elizabeth after 1851 and raised a family. The civil registration of the marriage should give me the name of George’s father.
Bride: Elizabeth Clifton
Groom: George Adams
Date: 13 May 1852
Location: Edgbaston, Warwickshire
Err, no fathers named!
Elizabeth’s age ‘minor’ indicates that she was under 21, which fits the Elizabeth in the census. Her age consistently indicates a birth date of ca. 1833, so she was 19 or 20 at the time of the marriage.
George’s occupation as a tailor fits, but the age ‘full’ does not confirm he is the right George.
Were there other tailors named George Adams in Birmingham?
The nineteenth century method of googling a tradesman was to consult a trade directory, which were usually published annually. Some entries were free, but many were paid for, so trade directories did not include every business. The ‘UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941’ collection on Ancestry looks promising. However, Ancestry does not give a list of the directory titles included, so I can’t assess the relevant coverage of the collection. The data is derived from a third party company that scans old books, produces indexes using optical character recognition (OCR), offering the result on CDs and online subscriptions, Midlands Historical Data. OCR is not completely accurate and renders some text as gobbled gook, which has been transferred into the Ancestry database. Consequently, some entries will not be found. I would like to search on the street address to check for entries missed and confirm someone else occupied premises before and after my target, but Ancestry’s search does not accommodate this search.
A search of the Ancestry collection using search terms George Adams and tailor yielded these results:
|Year||Street Address||directory title|
|1855||94 Smith Street||White’s Directory of Birmingham|
|1855||93 Branston Street|
|1858||(successor to R. Blackburn, late of 93 Branston Street) tailor, draper and French trouser maker, 14 Northampton Street||Dix’s General and Commercial Directory of Birmingham|
|1862||14 Northampton Street||Slater’s Royal National Commercial – Warwickshire|
|1866||Morris’s Commercial Directory of Warwickshire with Birmingham|
|1872||Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham|
|1873||tailor and draper; 24 Northampton Street; h Crompton villa, Crompton rd, Handsworth||White’s Directory of Birmingham|
|1876||24 Northampton Street||Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham|
|1892||161 Hockley hill|
|1912||16 Mole street, Sparkbrook|
|1921||1 South range, Mole St. Sparkbrook|
White’s 1855 directory lists 2 tailors named George Adams, but the other directories only list one. The 1858 listing identifies the Branston Street and 14 Northampton Street tailors as the same person. Are the later listings at 24 Northampton Street and Hockley Hill also the same person? Is this the George who married Elizabeth Clifton? Census addresses give further insights:
|1851||9 Branston Street||George at brother’s house|
|1861||12 Northampton Street||George, Elizabeth & 4 children|
|1871||Stanford Road, Handsworth||George, Elizabeth & 4 children|
|1881||66 Crompton Road, Handsworth||George, Elizabeth & 2 children|
|1891||106 Crompton Road, Handsworth||George, Elizabeth & 3 adult children, 3 grandchildren|
|1901||161 Hockley Hill||widowed Elizabeth & 2 adult children|
The 1873 directory listing gives a home address in Crompton Road, which ties in with the 1881 census address. The National Probate Calendar confirms George’s death:
Adams George of 161 Hockley-hill Birmingham tailor died 23 January 1899 Probate Birmingham 27 February to Elizabeth Adams widow Effects £69 13s 2d
On the 1901 census Elizabeth’s was a tailor and her son, Ernest Clifton Adams, was a tailor’s assistant. So, the 1903 directory listing indicates the business was still in operation, not that George had been resurrected! Elizabeth probably died in 1904 (FreeBMD death index, 1904 Jan-Mar quarter, Birmingham, Vol 6d, page 84), which is consistent with no further entries in the Handsworth area. The tailor in Sparkbrook, on the other side of Birmingham, is clearly a different person.
Taken together, the census and trade directory information support one another and give a career history for George. Even though the evidence is indirect and I have not searched the records as thoroughly as I would have liked, I am reasonably convinced this George is the brother of Edward John/James Adams.
A possible candidate for George, aged 18, on the 1841 census, resided in Steelhouse Lane with probable Adams relatives, Sarah (aged 60), Alexander (20), Phoebe (16), Catherine (11), William (7), Sophia (4) and Fanny Plant (11). Unfortunately the 1841 census does not give relationships and only approximate ages. Sarah could be the mother of Alexander, George and Phoebe, but not the younger household members. So Edward John/James Adams’, father was possibly James Adams and George Adams’ mother might have been Sarah. Maybe I should look for baptisms for children of James Adams and Sarah. Big Maybe.
© Sue Adams 2013
So far in the 50 Marriage Mondays series, I have presented marriage certificates that were issued on the day of the event, or by the General Register Office. This marriage certificate was issued on 30 October 2000 by the superintendent registrar for the district in which it occurred, Abingdon.
Bride: Eliza Ellen Kembry or Kembrey
Groom: William Dunsdon
Date: 29 April 1871
Location: parish church, Fyfield, Berkshire
A quick recap on the registration system: Two registers kept by the church where filled in as the marriages occurred. Every quarter, copies of the marriages were made and sent to the General Register Office (GRO), which prepared a national index of all marriages. This is the index that is widely available online (e.g. FreeBMD) and on microfiche, and is the one I consulted to order the certificate. Once the registers were full, one was sent to the district registrar, who created their own index of registers in their keeping, which is different from the GRO index. Some of these indexes have been published and are searchable at UK BMD, but Fyfield parish is not yet included. The second register may remain at the church, but most have been deposited at County Record Offices or Archives.
The April-June 1871 GRO index entries for this marriage provide this information:
The certificate is a handwritten transcript of the register. The superintendent registrar, who is obliged to ensure that certificates are accurate copies of the register, included a note pointing out that the bride’s name was spelt differently, Elisa Ellen Kembry.
How might the discrepancy have arisen?
The GRO index has at least two copying events in its provenance (copy of original register submitted, details copied on creation of the index), the certificate just one. Does that mean the certificate is more reliable? We do not know if the two original registers are identical, so there is a possibility that the bride did not consistently spell her name. How was her name recorded on other records?
|Oct-Dec 1851 GRO birth index||Eliza Ellen Kembrey|
|1861 census||Ellen Kembrey|
|1871 census||Ellen Kimbrey|
|1873 daughter Emily’s birth certificate||Eliza Ellen Dunsdon formerly Kembrey|
|1881 census||Elizabeth Dunsdon|
|1891 census||Eliza Ellen Dunsdon|
|1901 census||Eliza Dunsdon|
Is there a correct spelling?
Usually it is fairly easy to find alternative forms of a surname through one of the websites that gives statistics on surname frequencies and origins such as British Surnames and Surname Profiles or PublicProfiler gbnames. However, Kembrey and Kembry are not listed. Similarly a search on Ancestry’s ‘Learn about the history of your surname page’ indicates a mere 757 census and voters roll records spread across time, so it seems the name is rare indeed.
The Kembrey name could be a corruption of something that sounds similar, which is something I should bear in mind when I try tracing earlier generations. Soundex provides a means of comparing phonetically similar names. The soundex code for Kembrey/Kembry is K516 or C516 if you replace the K with a C. RootsWeb’s Soundex Converter suggests other surnames sharing these soundex codes:
Kemper, Kempers, Kimber, Kimberlin, Kimberly, Kimbrell, Kimbro, Kimbrough, Knepper, Knippers, Camber, Cambridge, Chamberlain, Chamberlin, Chambers, Comfort, Comper, Confer, Conibear, Conover, Conpropst, Converse, Convery, Coomber, Cumberland
© Sue Adams 2013