Treasures in Card Catalogues

On a recent visit to Kent History and Library Centre, which is where the Kent Archives are based, I was reminded of the treasures in card catalogues.

When planning a visit to an archive, I spend time planning for the visit. I review my research problems to see if there are any questions that possibly require information from that archive. I keep a ‘Master Research Log‘ where I make a note of any original records that I want to look at to confirm that transcriptions are correct or I want an original copy of the record. I also record items which may provide further information to progress a research question. One column I always include is ‘County’ so that I can search on that column when heading to a county archive to see all the things I want to look up. It is also very useful when a new dataset of parish registers or wills arrive on a subscription website as per the Kent collection of Parish Registers at Find My Past which arrived a week after my visit to the archives.

The other thing I do when preparing to visit an archive is to search their online catalogue for any of my family surnames, key places or events that affect my family. I make a note of references and when possible always order the maximum number of documents allowed before visiting so that there are things to look at as soon as I arrive. I also review what is on open access (often the parish records and probate records) so I can plan the things I want to look at that I do not need to order up.

However, the online catalogue is rarely complete for all the holdings at an archive (in fact often it is just a small proportion of the total). On my recent visit, I had a gap between documents being produced and I was sharing the microfilm reader with my friend so could not progress my planned tasks. I had noticed a card index sitting in the corner with a surname section. One of my key surnames in Kent is Kipps. So I looked up Kipps and there I discovered the treasure awaiting me.

The majority of the entries were for documents in the 16th and 17th centuries. There were receipts of sales between my 12 x great grandfather Gylbert Kipps and other yeomen in the village of Kemsing where he lived. There was a document of the division of lands from Richard Kipps (my 10 x great grandfather) to three of his sons (interestingly not to his eldest son, my ancestor). There were letters of correspondence regarding members of the Kipps family. I was particularly intrigued by the entry entitled ‘From John Theobald about the jointure of Richard Kippes’ wife. 1627‘ [U1007/C8] to learn more about her. So I completely changed my research strategy for the day (luckily I had already had lots of success with probate records and did not have a lot of key records left to look at). I ordered up the documents referenced – there was a ring binder with more information on the collection that all these records were included in.

The documents were ordered up and I gradually realised I was touching the same paper that my 10x great grandfather must have touched. In particular, the one with his signature on must have been touched by him. To touch paper, touched 500 years ago by an ancestor, was a very special moment. Unfortunately due to the copying restrictions at Kent Archives, I do not have permission to publish the information (although I may get time to request that permission at some point to allow me to share it online in the future). Given the age of the documents, many were in Latin and there is lots of work to do reading both the Latin and old English writing to understand what was said. A further blog will hopefully give details of what I have found.

So I am hoping this experience will help to encourage others to take the time to look in the card catalogue and find the treasures hidden inside.

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