Sorting, Cleaning, Indexing and so much more!

December 6, 20182:59 pmLeave a Comment

We’re stock-checking for the next couple of weeks and having to do all those jobs we’ve been putting off because we can’t do them when we are open to the public. This is not always the best fun, I can tell you. It often involves intense physical work (re-shelving documents) cleaning documents (which can be filthy work) tidying book-shelves, sorting and tidying maps, catalogues and microfiche – I think you get the picture. It’s like housework on a huge scale!

The heritage assistants have a variety of tasks they undertake during this period and one of mine is to identify new sources to index and put on-line. I supervise a wonderful group of volunteers who are working tirelessly at indexing the Board of Guardians poor law records – particularly the minutes. The minutes don’t list everyone who passed through the auspices of the Boards of Guardians but they do mention quite a few people and can be an invaluable source. But where to go next?

Invariably, whatever I think is a useful source to index is not going to appeal to everyone. However, I’ve started two indexing projects – one to index the magistrates court records for the First World War period and the other the list of vagrants as compiled by the Quarter Sessions.

Magistrates Court records contain a variety of information, although it has to be said, not in any great quantity. However, I have been finding out a few useful things they contain which you may find interesting:

1) Applications for child support – where the father is often listed by name! Great for those people frustrated by the lack of a father’s name on a birth certificate
2) Soldiers: mainly those arrested for kicking over the traces on a Saturday night but occasionally for desertion or assault, etc. Usefully, they occasionally give the regiment they are with and even in some cases a service number
3) Applications for extending licences for a variety of clubs, pubs, trading on racecourses, etc. These can give a lovely bit of colour to our ancestors’ lives!

There are also, of course, a variety of petty misdemeanours which to our modern eyes seem quite trivial. Countless people were brought before the magistrates for having no lights on their bicycles, no dog licences, inadequate lights on cars, etc. During the war years it seems to have been difficult to balance the whole car lighting question. There are some people fined for not having lights and others fined for too many lights. I suspect a motoring historian could illuminate (ha! ha!) me on this?

Therefore you won’t get a huge amount from magistrates’ records but they can provide some useful ‘nuggets’.

Similarly with vagrancy records. Vagrants have been classed in different ways over the years but in the 18th century they included those who were not settled in a particular parish (for more information on Settlements see my blog of 22 September 2017). It was the duty of the parish constable to evict from the parish anyone who didn’t have a right to be there (that is, either not gainfully employed, not having right of settlement or not having the necessary paperwork to entitle them to stay). They would be taken to the parish boundary and escorted over the border and left for the next parish/county quarter sessions to sort out. Rather a harsh solution and not always terribly effective, as you see the same names recurring again and again.  Like the Magistrates’ Court records, they don’t give a huge amount of information but they do give the parish that the unfortunately vagrant was evicted from, where they were sent to and more importantly, their settled parish. Mind you, some of the spellings are a bit creative and I’m guessing that this was because the quarter sessions officials simply hadn’t heard of half the places they were being told – or couldn’t understand them.  Aberistwith [Aberystwyth] is a classic example of a dodgy entry, although to be fair, I think the officials made a pretty good stab at spelling it!!

We would love to hear suggestions about what records you would like to see indexed. We can’t always promise that we are able to keep up with demand but it does help us to understand what people would like or find useful.

Happy Researching!

PS: Do look at our lovely Advent Calendar on our Facebook page (https://en-gb.facebook.com/surreyheritage/). These include some of the wonderful images in our 70th Birthday Celebration Booklet.

Written by Jane Lewis

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