Where to begin?

Ok so I’ve arrived in Bury as the Bealey Project Archivist and have been given the Bealey collection to arrange and catalogue. How does an archivist actually do that?  

Well, I’m not the first person to look at sorting out the papers, I have a list…  

Original list of box contents.

Original list of box contents.

…a list of 41 pages in total with hand written comments added at the sides. I even have some notes …  

Hand written notes about the Bealey papers. Not easy to understand!

Hand written notes about the Bealey papers. Not straight forward to understand what they are trying to say at this stage!

…I’m sure that they say some really relevant things but on day 1, they really don’t help. My job would have been easier if they had just been left as they were when they were deposited with Bury Council but records are often rearranged for various reasons before they come to an archive. I also have a lot of these…  

Archive boxes. The Bealey papers fill 37 of these boxes and 8 more larger ones with maps and plans.

Archive boxes. The Bealey papers fill 37 of these boxes and 8 more larger ones with maps and plans.

These are archive boxes which are used to store and protect the records and documents which make up an archive. As you can see, they don’t give much away from the outside, just a box number which helps the archive staff to find the right location for a document.  

So, what I have to do now is match up the list with the boxes – easy get cataloguing! Well not really. My list does not even have the same box numbers so my next task is to see what is in each box.  

Contents of box 806. These records are about the Bleachworks business.

Contents of box 806. These records are about the Bleachworks business.

This is where it can get tricky as all of the records are unique and have to be identified properly before they can be put back in their original order and catalogued so that people can find them and use them for research.  

Although these tradesmens' bills for the Bealey Memorial Hospital in Radcliffe look untidy, they are still in their original order as they were fastened together in 1916 during WWI.

Some records are easy to identify but some mean nothing at the moment as they have been mixed up and not in the order that they were created in. They have lost their contextual information or “provenance”.  

These packets of loose papers about audits and accounts have been kept together but if the packets had been opened and the contents seperated out, I probably wouldn't know what papers belonged to which audit or set of accounts.

These packets of loose papers about audits and accounts have been kept together but if the packets had been opened and the contents separated out, I probably wouldn't know what papers belonged to which audit or set of accounts.

My task now is to check the original list against the contents of the boxes to see if all of the documents are there and what condition they are in. As I do this, I’m making a new list which is quite detailed to help me catalogue later.  

My box list with the old and new box locations, how many items there are, a description and a note about their condition.

My box list with the old and new box locations, how many items there are, a description and a note about their condition.

So, this is where I need to begin, by producing a box list. Only 35 more to go…

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About bealey

Bury archives has employed a professional project archivist, Gillian Paxton, who is sorting through the papers of the Bealey family and their company The Bealey Bleachworks based in Radcliffe near Bury. These records are being catalogued so they can be made available to the public.
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One Response to Where to begin?

  1. Very interested to hear about this Project. I particularly liked this post, I think it is a great introduction to the problems an archivist faces. Best of luck with the Bealeys!

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