The Original in Context

In How Many Copies? and A Ghost and More Copies I explored a variety of derivative forms of the baptism of Alfred Munday on 30 November 1845 at Abinger. Archives are principally concerned with the preservation of original documents, so archival catalogues place an emphasis on the originals rather than copies.

A guiding principle to arranging and describing archival materials is ‘Respect des fonds‘, the grouping of documents that share a common creator, purpose and use. Archival catalogues use a hierarchy to record the relationships between documents in a collection or fond.

The General International Standard Archival Description, abbreviated as ISAD(G) provides general guidance for the preparation of archival descriptions, and is intended to be used in conjunction with national standards. The purpose of archival description is to identify and explain the context and content of archival materials. This is achieved by applying multilevel description rules:

  • Description from the general to the specific
  • Information relevant to the level of description
  • Linking of descriptions
  • Non-repetition of information

ISAD(G) provides 26 elements, which cover identity, context, content and structure, conditions of access and use, allied materials, notes, description control. However, only 6 elements are essential:

  • Reference code
  • Title
  • Date(s)
  • Level
  • Extent
  • Creator

Using just the essential 6 elements, I will build a description of the baptism register containing Alfred Munday’s baptism.

Employing the description from the general to the specific rule, I start with the top level collection or fond:

Reference code GB 176 AB
Title Abinger, St James: Parish Records
Date(s) 1559-1979
Level Collection
Extent & medium 22 series
Creator Abinger parish, Church of England

The reference code consists of 3 parts, a country code, GB, from the recommended standard ISO 3166, denotes Great Britain; a repository code, 176, from The National Archives’ catalogue of UK repositories, which denotes Surrey History Centre; and AB which denotes the collection.

The creator of this collection, Abinger parish of the Church of England, deposited their own records, identified by the title. Although the repository may hold other Church of England records, it was the parish that deposited this collection, not the larger church. The level of collection indicates that this group of materials was administered by the creator, which provides a clear provenance. The dates recorded are the range of the whole collection, a general indication of dates covered.

The collection is sub-divided into 22 series, which groups materials that served common purposes and uses. The hierarchy view of Sussex History Centre’s online catalogue shows the variety of materials in this collection.

Hierachy view of Surrey History Centre catalogue showing Abinger parish collection

Hierachy view of Surrey History Centre catalogue showing Abinger parish collection

One of the series, denoted by the reference code AB/4, contains baptism registers created between 1813 and 1898:

Local reference code AB/4
Title Baptism Registers
Date(s) 1813-1898 (creation range)
Level Series
Extent & medium 2 registers & 1 enclosure
Creator

Rose’s Act of 1812 specified the format of pre-printed books to be used for Church of England parish registers. In order to comply with the law, parishes typically started new registers around 1812-1813. The change in the way Abinger’s baptism registers were created and used is reflected in the placement of post 1812 registers in a separate series.

I have recorded the dates covered by the registers in the series to comply with the information relevant to the level of description rule, and left creator blank to comply with the non-repetition of information rule.

Within the series of post 1812 baptismal registers there are just 2 registers, the second of which contains Alfred Munday’s baptism:

Local reference code AB/4/2
Title Baptism register
Date(s) Jul 1841 -May 1898 (creation range)
Level Item
Extent & medium Printed & manuscript book, at least 74 pages (last ancestry page scan is p. 73 has reverse print visible)
Creator printed by Shaw & Sons (137 & 138 Fetter Lane, London), manuscript by John Massey Dawson (JMass Dawson) rector 1835-1850, John Wellsted Powell rector 1850-1881, G H Feachem curate, E J Cathrow curate, East Apthorp curate & others

An item is a single document or artefact, in this case a book. I have recorded only information applicable to the book at the item level. As I have not accessed the actual book, I have worked out the number of pages as best I can from the images on Ancestry. I could have left the creator blank, but have chosen to record more detail than usual, including who printed the book and the main clergymen responsible for writing in it. I referred to the Ancestry images and Abinger parish website for this information.

The descriptions are linked by their reference codes. In order to fully appreciate the context and content of this baptism register, all 3 descriptions are needed.

The Surrey History Centre’s catalogue give some more information, particularly at the collection level, which may influence the interpretation of the records. Always explore all the levels of archive catalogues.

Individual records of baptisms, the informational content of an item, are not included in an archival style catalogue. Finding aids such as an index, abstract or transcript provide navigation to information within an item. You can expect a Rose’s Act type of baptism register to have numbered pages and individually numbered entries (p.16 entry no. 123 for Alfred Munday’s baptism) because that was specified by the law to prevent falsification of records.

A finding aid is one of those copies that were the subject of the two previous posts. Linking to them is not supported by the 6 essential elements of ISAD(G). I will explore other ISAD(G) elements in a future post.

 

© Sue Adams 2015

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A Ghost and More Copies

In How many copies? I challenged you to find some more versions of the Abinger baptism for Alfred Munday. Did you find any?

Take a close look at this extract from the Ancestry digital image.

Abinger baptism extract

Abinger baptism extract

Notice that in entry no 22, ‘Alfred’ was written then crossed out. Entry no 22 records the baptism of Sarah Luff on the 9 November 1845, but it had not been written in the register when Alfred was baptised on the 30 November. The curate who performed the ceremonies likely made some sort of note of the details, either mental or written, and filled in the register later.

Parish registers are considered an ‘original’ source in American genealogist’s terminology, or a ‘primary’ source in general historian’s terminology. If you look very closely, ‘original’ might not be the first record. Examination of changes in handwriting and ink might give some insight into the length of time between the baptisms and filling of the register. I would need access to the original register or a high quality colour copy to make such an assessment.

In this post I have added another copy of Alfred Munday’s baptism to those available online, an annotated and cropped version of Ancestry’s digital image. In addition to the file I have uploaded, there are several files in different formats on my computer, a Photoshop file and jpegs saved at different resolutions. Copies downloaded or shared on social media will be further modified, producing yet more copies.

I could also print copies for the relatives who don’t do computers. I have received photocopied records from relatives, such as the example discussed in Copies of Copies, Citation and Source Evaluation with FamilySearch.

Remember, copies are not equal. The further removed from the original the copy is, the more reliant you are on information associated with it. You only know the above extract image is from Abinger parish because I told you so in this post, or from the filename.

 

© Sue Adams 2015