Friday, 26 March 2010

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service

Last week I was reading a disturbing editorial in The Oxfordshire Local Historian complaining about the stop-go 'policy' for developing the local studies centre and record office in Oxford - the local studies centre being squeezed of staff and space to accommodate a building development that is unlikely to take place - and the record office's ideas for a combined local studies centre and record office on a new site having to be reduced drastically to a redesign of the current record office (in a former church) to accommodate both.

The editorial was expressing a deep-felt frustration about Oxfordshire services and there seemed to be something substantial to complain about.  But in comparison with Bedfordshire, there's no cause for complaint.

I've been hearing about what sounds like indifference or ignorance in the 'support' given to Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service (BLARS) since the local government changes in the county twelve months ago.  (Is it significant that the change was implemented on 1 April?)  I hear that the service does not have a budget; that it has no strategic head for policy development; that it was not going to be able to re-apply for Charter Mark status.

I may have misunderstood the situation.  I hope so.  I'd like someone to explain what is happening.

BLARS is a jewel amongst county record offices and a Bedfordshire treasure that the three local authorities  should be exploiting (in the best sense of the word) for the advantage of the county, all those who have an interest in its history and - not least - for the enhancement of  their standing.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Do you think your surname is native to Bedfordshire - again

The post about surnames has produced an almost instant reply from Richard, who says:

I wonder whether the website which I manage might be of help in the study of surname distribution?  It is the website of the National Archive of Memorial Inscriptions, NAOMI for short.  The address is:

There are at present 29,263 people from 108 burial grounds named on the site .  To read the inscriptions on their memorials searchers have to pay (£4), but searching is free of charge.  If you enter first the county's name on the home page and the name you are interested in, pressing 'Search' will bring up a list of all the names at present included in the database from Bedfordshire, together with their first names, dates of death, age at death and the place of their burial. 
Then you can use the search facilities to help you find spelling variants of the names. The two most useful ways of doing this are by employing in your search box the signs? (question mark) and * (asterisk). The ? works like a wild card – it can represent any letter. So, for example, the surname ‘Grey' can be spelled 'Gray'. To search for both, enter 'Gr?y.

The * works in a similar way, but it can bring up any number of letters. Try ‘Gr*y’.Other names are found in a wider variety of spellings. An example is 'Sewell'. The only common factor in the various versions is that they begin with an 'S' and end with an 'l'. Enter ‘S*l and you will get all the examples that are available which begin with ‘S’ and end with ‘l’. As you can see, this is a powerful tool from which a surname distribution map could be drawn, taking account of migration and of variant spellings.

Richard Smart

And Richard has supplied a photograph from NAOMI.  It is of the much loved and mourned daughter Florence Jane (known as Edris) of Edward and Charlotte Bousfield.  Charlotte's diary was published by BHRS and has recently been reprinted in paperback at £14.95.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Do you think your surname is native to Bedfordshire?

The forthcoming BHRS volume is the WWI War Diary of the 2nd Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment and reading it (OK, proof-reading) I noticed Acting Corporal Vincent Ivory from Luton among the casualties in July 1917.  This rang a bell as the surname cropped up in another context recently - again from the Luton area, but in this instance from the early sixteenth century, when the family were playing a leading part in the pre-Reformation Luton Fraternity (a secular religious gild).

It set me thinking about the continuity of names in very small areas of the country and in particular in Bedfordshire where for example Ellingham, Docwra, Cleaver, Honor/Honour, Baldwin, German/Jarman, Mann, Pedder, Tearle, Peppiatt were prominent in south Bedfordshire in the early sixteenth century and are still there and in adjoining counties today.  How long had these families been living there before the sixteenth century?

That question may soon be answered, or at least evidence provided to assist in further research.

A far-reaching study of surnames in Britain is being undertaken by Professor Richard Coates and a team at the University of the West of England's Bristol Centre for Linguistics.  The study, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was announced at the end of last year and sounds as if it will be a major contribution to source material for population studies.  The press release includes this explanation of its purpose and aims and some of the information it will provide:

"Using published and unpublished resources, dating from as far back as the 11th century, a team of researchers will collect information about individual names such as when and where they were recorded and how they have been spelled. This information will be used to give new and detailed explanations of those names. This new knowledge will be far more reliable and up to date than that found in the books on surnames currently available. This resource will be a permanently publicly accessible database that people can use for a range of information. Each name will have separate fields which include: the meaning of the surname; the linguistic origin, the geographical origin and the distribution."
So, how will this affect Bedfordshire history? For a start, it will be a considerable aid to plotting the distribution of a surname in different periods and, consequently, the internal migration of individuals and families. Migration means contact and contact means influence, and it may be possible to extrapolate familial networks which will tie Bedfordshire people in with other areas of Britain.

It will be several years before the information will be available of course but I'm looking forward to the potential for widening research that it will provide.