I find archives incredibly exciting! Hardly a day in an archive goes by without making some sort of unexpected discovery. Sometimes a brief, bland catalogue description turns out to relate to a document which is way more fascinating than the description would lead anyone to expect. Other times strange coincidences happen. For example, we catalogued the court records relating to a man who was transported to Australia for stealing a leg of mutton from a butcher’s shop in the 1840s. A couple of weeks later we had an email enquiry from an Australian descendant of the same man asking if we had any information about her ancestor. Well, yes, as it happened we had!
Another coincidence happened when a member of the public was searching for documents relating to a particular, slightly unusual occupation. We found a couple of 15th century deeds mentioning this occupation and ordered them down. They turned out to be the two parts of the same document. Let me explain …
Image: Wikimedia Commons
It used to be that when a property was sold (or other agreement made) a deed was drawn up with the same text written at both ends of a single piece of parchment. The parchment was then cut in two using a wavy or jagged “indented” line, as in the example above. Each party could then prove that their half of the deed was genuine by matching up the uneven edge with the other half of the indenture. Completely unknown to us, five hundred years after it was made we had acquired the two parts of this single indenture, each of them coming to us in completely separate archive collections. Seeing those two documents come back together after so long? Mind boggling! Then, totally failing to follow my own regular advice to Always Write Down References, I sent them back upstairs without remembering to record the reference numbers. I think I could find them again, but haven’t made it easy for myself!