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Report on the Transcription and Publica
tion of Parish Registers, etc.
The Congress of Archæological Societies in union with the Society of Antiquaries desires to call the attention of the public and especially of those interested in antiquarian research, to the extreme importance of duly preserving and rendering accessible the Registers and other Parish Records of the United Kingdom.
These contain matter of the greatest value not only to the genealogist, but also to the student of local history, and through these to the general historian; it is to be regretted that sufficient care has not been taken in the past of these documents, which have too often been thoughtlessly destroyed.
Many Registers have already been copied and published, and every year adds to the list, and the Congress is in hope that these suggestions may lead to a still greater number being undertaken.
As the older writings are in a different character from that used at the present time, they are not easily deciphered, and require careful examination, even from experts. It is extremely desirable therefore that they should be transcribed, not only to guard against possible loss or injury, but in order to render them more easily and generally accessible to the student.
The Committee appointed by the Congress of 1889 for the purpose of considering the best means of assisting the transcription and publication of Parish Registers and Records was constituted as follows: EDWIN FRESHFIELD, LL.D., V.P.S.A., Chairman.
The Rev. Canon BENHAM, B.D.,
R. S. FABER, M.A.
(Hon. Sec. Huguenot Society.) W. J. HARDY, F.S.A.
J. J. HOWARD, LL.D., F.S.A.
G. W. MARSHALL, LL.D., F.S.A. (Rouge Croix.)
G. H. OVEREND, F.S.A.
(Public Record Office.) Rev. W. SPARROW SIMPSON, D.D., F.S.A. (St. Paul's Cathedral). MILL STEPHENSON, B.A., F.S.A. (Hon. Sec. Surrey Archæo. Soc.)
RALPH NEVILL, F.S.A. (Hon. Sec.)
The Congress trust that the following paper of Suggestions drawn up by the Committee may prove useful to those anxious to assist in the preservation, transcription and, where possible, publication of the documents referred to.
Suggestions as to Transcription.
LIMITS OF DATE.
It is evident that there is most reason for transcribing the oldest Registers, but those of later date are also of great value, and it is suggested that 1812, the date of the Act of 52 Geo. III, cap. 146, is a suitable point to which copies may be taken.
CHARACTER OF WRITING.
In transcribing, great care must be used to avoid mistakes from the confusion of certain letters with modern letters of similar form.
An alphabet is adjoined giving some of the ordinary characters, but Registers vary, and the manner in which the capital letters are formed is of infinite variety. It may be noted that capital F resembles two small ff's, but there is no reason whatever for printing it in the latter way; G is a difficult letter running into C and T; K and R are formed exactly alike, except that the direction of the top loop is always reversed; W is formed as two U's or two V's.
A B C O, O I. E ff. Q C D H I J L F K, L, M, NE,
O P Q P R S T C a b c d e f g h i k l m
Great help in deciphering names may be gained from a study of existing local names. It must, however, be borne in mind that the same name may be continually spelt in different ways, and may undergo considerable changes in the course of time or from the hands of different scribes.
In copying dates it must be remembered that down to 1752, year began on the 25th of March and not on the 1st of January.
METHOD OF TRANSCRIPTION.
There can be no doubt that a verbatim et literatim transcription is of far more value than any other form; it is otherwise impossible to be sure that some point of interest and importance has not been overlooked; the extra trouble of making a complete transcript is small, and the result much more satisfactory. In any case the names should be given literatim and all remarks carefully copied, with some indication, where possible, as to the date of the remark. Other records,
such as Churchwardens' Accounts, should certainly not be transcribed and printed otherwise than in full. It is far better in both cases to do a portion thoroughly than the whole imperfectly.
REVISION AND COLLATION OF COPIES.
The decipherment of old Registers is, as already pointed out, a work of considerable difficulty, and it is therefore strongly recommended that in cases where the transcribers have no great previous experience, they should obtain the help of some competent reader to collate the transcript with the original.
It should be remembered that in many cases transcripts are preserved in the Bishops' Registries and a reference to these will often fill up a void, clear up a difficulty or supply an omission. It occasionally happens that the original Registers are preserved as well as later Transcripts; in such cases, the two should be collated and all variations noted.
With regard to the publication of Registers, the Committee have carefully considered the question of printing in abbreviated or index form and have come to the conclusion to strongly recommend that the publication should be in full, not only for the reasons given for transcription, but because the extra trouble and expense is so small and the value so very much greater.
There seems, however, no objection, in either case, to the use of contractions of formal words of constant recurrence. A list of some of these is adjoined:
With regard to entries of marriage after Lord Hardwicke's Act of 1752, it is suggested that the form of entry may be simplified by the omission of formal phrases, but care should be taken not to omit any record of fact, however apparently unimportant, such for instance as the names of witnesses, ministers, occupation, etc.
It is essential in all cases that an Index should be given and that the Christian names should be given with the surnames.
It is believed that many Registers remain unprinted owing to an exaggerated idea of the cost of printing and binding. Reasonable estimates for these might, probably, often be obtained from local presses which would be interested in the publication.
No absolute rule as to size and type can be laid down, but on this and other questions the Standing Committee will always be glad to give advice. It is probable that demy octavo or foolscap quarto will be found the most convenient sizes.
A Standing Committee has been appointed by the Congress for the purpose of giving advice and distributing to the various Societies in Union such information and lists as may be of common value to all.
Societies in Union are strongly urged to form their own Committees to take steps to secure the printing of the many Transcripts that already exist unpublished, and to promote further Transcription.
By permission of G. W. Marshall, Esq., LL.D. (Rouge Croix, College of Arms), the accompanying list of Printed Registers has been prepared from the Calendar privately printed by him in 1891. A revised and augmented edition of this Calendar is in progress, and will contain full references to all known printed Registers, Transcripts and Collections, whether complete or consisting of extracts.
The Committee also issue a list of MS. Transcripts and propose to prepare and issue further lists from time to time. They therefore ask that information may be sent to them, or to the Secretaries of County Societies, of any Transcripts in private hands. The inclusive dates of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials should be given, and any complete Transcript will be calendared, although extending over a short period only, but Extracts will not be admissible.
The Committee suggest that lists of existing Transcripts, with full particulars of the location of the Transcript, should be kept by the County Societies, and where possible, in order to avoid risk of loss, it is very desirable that such Transcripts should be deposited, either temporarily or permanently, in the Libraries of the Societies.
It is believed that the publication of a series of Registers, supplemental and extra to their Transactions, would add to the attractiveness and usefulness of the Societies without being a serious burden to their funds. By combination and organization a considerable body of outside subscribers may probably be secured for such a series, and the cost of distribution of circulars, etc., may be materially reduced by such a plan as the issue, by the Central Committee, of an annual circular containing lists of Registers in course of publication. Such a circular might be distributed by the local Societies and published in their Transactions and elsewhere.
The Standing Committee will be very glad to receive suggestions from Local Committees and others.