One of the parts of my job that I love the most is having the privilege to look at original historical documents. With more and more material becoming available online it can be a real treat to have the opportunity to examine documents in person.
I have recently been working on a very interesting case, for a client I’ve been working with for a number of years. During my last piece of work I spent almost as much time searching for what records survived and where they were held as I did examining documents. The family came from the Wisbech area in Cambridgeshire which, as you can see from the map below, is close to the borders with Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
My most recent work involved looking for two things: surviving poor law and associated records for Wisbech St Mary and parish registers, Bishop’s Transcripts and poor law records for the nearby parishes of West Walton, Walsoken and Emneth in Norfolk. You would think this would fairly straightforward, surely a combination of visits to Cambridgeshire Archives and Norfolk Record Office?
In fact it was far more complex than that. The parishes of interest all fall within the Deanery of Wisbech Lynn Marshland and the majority of records for these parishes are held at neither county archive but at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.
Of course, only the majority of records are there. There are some poor law records for Wisbech St Mary at Cambridgeshire Archives and some at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.
The parish registers for West Walton, Walsoken and Emneth are held at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum but Norfolk Record Office has microfiche copies.
The parishes West Walton, Walsoken and Emneth may all be in Norfolk but, whilst West Walton and Walsoken were under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Norwich, Emneth was in the Diocese of Ely. Bishops Transcripts (BTs) for the Diocese of Norwich are are now easily accessed via the Family Search or Ancestry websites. To further complicate matters this part of the country also has Archdeacon’s Transcripts or Register Bills (RBs). These are also available on Family Search and Ancestry.
Cambridgeshire Archives is not the Diocesan Archive. The records of the Diocese of Ely are held within the Manuscripts Department at Cambridge University Library.
I now had a number of options. After extensive searching, emailing and telephone calls I established that the Wisbech St Mary poor law records for my period of interest were at Cambridgeshire Archives:
I examined my West Walton and Walsoken BTs and RBs online but travelled to Cambridgeshire University library to look at the BTs for Emneth, a rare opportunity to examine these original documents in person.
I then visited the Wisbech and Fenland Museum to examine parish registers and poor law records for my Norfolk parishes.
This particular piece of work may only have been looking at the more common sources for family history research but the location of the documents added its own level of complexity. This was a first visit to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum for me and a fantastic opportunity to look at a variety of documents. It is only a very small archive compared to others but the staff are exceedingly helpful and I really enjoyed visiting somewhere new.