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19 December 2019

First museum job and Parish Registers

First museum job and Parish Registers

The Cambridgeshire Family History Society and Wisbech & Fenland Museum are making parish records available online for the very first time

Wisbech & Fenland Museum are working in partnership with Cambridgeshire Family History Society (CFHS), who have provided significant funding, on a project to digitize the Parish records held at Wisbech and Fenland Museum to make images of them available online for the first time. The Museum holds over 500 registers which start in the 1500s and continue to the present day covering the 32 parishes in and around Wisbech including, Walsoken, Wisbech St Mary, Wisbech St Peter and Tydd St Giles. The records are baptisms, banns (banns are a notice which would’ve been read out on three successive Sundays in a parish church, giving the opportunity for objections to an intended wedding), marriages and burials.

In my work as digitisation officer / digital archivist I have been creating digital copies of parish register entries using specialist scanning equipment designed to take high quality, high resolution images. This work is important as some of the Registers are fragile and from a conservation point of view having a digital image means that the pages of registers will not be handled as much. Working at the Museum, I can honestly say that no two days are the same! This time last year the town was preparing for Royal visitors. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall came to Wisbech. The Duchess of Cornwall visited the museum to find out about our early years literacy project and meet schools from the area working with the Literacy Trust. It was really unexpected but I actually met the Duchess twice while presenting the manuscript of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in the Library.

Often, I am the first person to have opened the registers in decades and it is really rewarding to know that the images will help family historians to trace their ancestors online for the very first time.

Tristan at work using the digitisation equipment

It is fascinating to see familiar names entered in the registers such as abolitionist Thomas Clarkson’s baptism entry of 26 May 1760.

Thomas Clarkson’s baptism listed in the Wisbech St Peter’s baptism register, 1760

There have been some surprising finds too; a family in Parson Drove named all of their children after classical philosophers, historians, poets and scholars between 1814 and 1820. For example, Herodotus Socrates Petrarch. Hordotus was known as the father of History in the Classical world. Socrates, a founder of Western moral philosophy and Petrach was a love poet and scholar and is credited with founding humanism.

Herodotus Socrates Petrach Charles’s baptism listed in the Parson Drove baptism register 1817

Throughout the project 65,071 images have been taken. 530 registers have been completed and 170,740 names have been matched!

If you’re wondering what happens after the images are taken and how they end up online, I will explain what happens next. There is a team of volunteers who help Cambridgeshire Family History Society to match names and transcribe register entries. This information is then loaded onto the CFHS website so that people can search the records with an option to download a copy of the entry in the registers or order a CD copy for a fee. To find the records online please go to: https://cfhs.org.uk/wismus

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