X is for X-Series

Archive reference numbers are complex, indicating both the collection to which an item belongs and its place within in that collection. The collection code may also indicate something about the collection itself. In our archive larger collections get their own dedicated code letters, but many of the smaller ones will have a reference beginning with the letter X. This indicates that the items belonging to that collection have been deposited with the archive on long-term loan.

While many collections held by an archive will have been donated, with ownership passing to the archive, others are simply deposited for safe-keeping and accessibility while ownership remains with the creator or their successor. In some cases this is a given – hospital records, for example, are classed as public records and remain the property of the health authority, and everything deposited by Church of England parishes still belongs to the Church. Records relating to an organisation or institution that is still functioning are more likely to be deposited on loan. Family collections vary; children may be delighted to get rid of an attic sized collection of local history memorabilia hoarded by their father and happily donate it (and the problem of storing it) to the local archive, or they may want to retain ownership of their great-aunt’s diaries while depositing them for safe-keeping.

When a collection is deposited with an archive on loan, the archive is likely to accept it conditionally. Packaging and cataloguing a large collection is a time-intensive and therefore costly task, and there will often be a penalty clause requiring payment to be made as compensation for this time if the collection is withdrawn within a specified period (typically 20 or 30 years). Arrangements will need to be made for any items that the archive does not consider worth preserving – most depositors are happy for these to be disposed of, but some want them returned. Terms and conditions should always be set out in a deposit agreement so that any future confusion or disputes can be avoided. Unfortunately in the past the need to make sure a deposit agreement was in place was not always taken so seriously, and the paperwork for older collections can be vague or missing. The longer the time since a collection was deposited, the more likely it is that the legal status will be uncertain. It is also more likely that contact will have been lost with a depositor. Inevitably many collections will now be “owned” by defunct organisations or by individuals who died years (or decades) ago. Add to the vagaries of ownership of the records themselves the difficulties of establishing the ownership of copyright and at times an archivist can feel more like a lawyer!

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6 thoughts on “X is for X-Series”

  1. I found it interesting that the church might store records with your archive as here they have their own. Fascinating to have these glimpses into the processing of archives.

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    1. The Church of England appoints local record offices as their official place of deposit for that area, and parishes are obliged by the diocese to deposit their records with us. The Methodist Church has a similar arrangement. Parish registers in particular need the level of protection we can provide because the information they contain is so valuable. I know of one case in our county where a church safe containing a number of registers – which should have been deposited with us, but hadn’t been – was stolen and not recovered.

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      1. That’s very interesting! It makes sense yet they have their own archives here. I remember seeing centuries of church register books in a metal filing cabinet and was quite stunned. I think they have now gone to the regional Catholic archives. You almost wonder what the people were up to when they stole those registers…scandals or circumstance?

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      2. I presume they were after valuables and the church registers were just incidental. The Catholic Church is the exception here – they keep all their own registers. We don’t have any Catholic records at all.

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