Who Should Own Historical Documents?

My Genealogy cousin and I briefly discussed this question during a weekly Zoom we have for SHELDON Genealogy. Both of us have purchased old documents on Ebay. Apparently there has been a market for British Documents in America for quite some time as one American seller was auctioning off their grandmother’s collection and several had stickers from a now defunct American Department store. What my cousin Dale SHELDON asked was, “Should these be for sale, or should they be in an archive?”

1st April 1719 Triparte Indenture

The truth is I see his point. When we collect or hoard anything (including ancestors and family trees) we de facto deny others the rights to it. Bits and pieces of history then go missing. Which gets me back to one of my earliest blog posts about Genealogy and sharing; and a difference between most British Archives and their American counterparts. I think there’s nothing more thrilling for me than handling a 13th century document at a County Records Office or Archive like the Shakespeare Trust. This cannot be replicated in America, as we don’t have anything this old. But frankly it’s an expensive proposition to be able to travel to the UK to do so.

However there’s one thing that our American National and many US Archives offer that most British Archives do not. Although you can take photos of documents in the UK (for a nominal fee) you are not allowed to use the images in a publication or blog post without application and usually the payment of a fee. In America the documents out of copyright can be used without restriction and I applaud our American open access policy. It spreads information more broadly and makes for better story-telling. I do however wish to put in a plug for the UK National Archives sensible policy to make digitized images downloadable during the pandemic for free. I hope that this might become permanent, as treasures should be shared.

It’s right there in UK laws about finding hoards of ancient coins which then become the property of the crown, they are then generally exhibited and shared. Why not take the same tactic with documents? I think this might go a long way at making new discoveries, sharing valuable information etc. But we need both an open access policy and an open use policy. Food for thought.

And in the interest of sharing and the hopes I might by doing so, provide information for family members or other researchers, I post here a recently purchased document from Warwickshire. It is not, to my knowledge, associated with any of my traced families in Warickshire but it definitely has families that intermarried with SHELDONS, BROME, GRESWOLD in Warwickshire include SHAKESPEARE, COTON, WILLINGTON. Other names in the document: KNIGHT, REPINGTON, ENSOR, FULLWOOD, FRANKLAND, SWIFT, FALKESBRIDGE. Place names In Warwickshire include Kingsbury, Cliffe, Little Packington, Whately, Coleshill, Bromefields, Fither’s Farm, and Nether Whitacre. Elsewhere we have Little Hallam in Derbyshire and Hinckley in Leicestershire. Many related documents can be found at the Warwickshire Record Office and the Shakespeare Trust in Warwick and Stratford on Avon respectively. But not to my knowledge the counterpart to this one.

So one thing that owning such a document does for me is makes me want to research all the particulars and share it more broadly and perhaps piece together connections that might help others. So in that spirit I offer to share the images and or transcription with anyone interested. Perhaps in another blog post I will share what I found but here’s some highlights.

Signature and Seal of George Shakespeare
  • George SHAKESPEARE who had a farm at Little Packington shared the same Coat of Arms as that of “the” William SHAKESPEARE and the SHAKESPEARE’s of Fillongley
  • Thomas COTON lived at Coton Bridge and left money in his Will for a school which you can find out more about here
  • This indenture has an Alice ENSOR [nee COOKE] of Whately and mentions son and grandchildren, so several generations of the ENSOR family of Kingsbury and their relationship to the REP[P]INGTONs and KNIGHTs and SHAKSEPEAREs.
  • Waldive WILLINGTON is one of along line of Waldive WILLINGTONs

I invite my readers to share their thoughts on original documents, our responsibilities etc. I ask the question does writing and researching and making these freely available make for better chances of survival? Can you ever truly own a part of history?

Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.

1 Comments on “Who Should Own Historical Documents?”

  1. Pingback: Friday’s Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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