Many County Record Offices now have their own electronic catalogues Most, like Nottingham’s, offer a selection of their records, with work still in progress. Leicester has “only certain records entered so far” but offers useful lists. Huntingdonshire intends to re-open after refurbishment and Herefordshire lists recent deposits to June 2008 only. Some Record Offices, like Hertfordshire “are furiously adding records to their database” or Worcestershire who are trialling their database for opening in 2009. Surrey are “experiencing problems” . Many more have extensive coverage. Some CROs, like Northumberland, and Gloucestershire are outstanding, even if, as in Oxfordshire the records “do not include the texts of documents”. It is evident that most archivists are striving for perfection. Bedfordshire with outstanding attention to detail, claims as yet, to cover only 47% of the county’s archives. The general level of month by month updating of all these websites is impressive and there is no doubt but that time will tell.
Be prepared however, for different levels of interactive cover. The most superficial catalogues offer only titles and reference numbers to be found at the Record Office. A second level is offered by those who open up the reference number and provide a synopsis. Outstanding catalogues are those which present a third or even fourth stage of the search leading finally to a full transcript or statement of all aspects of each record. An excellent example is found on: http://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/countyrecordoffice (the Warwickshire website) which has concentrated on three searches. The Tithe Award database for the dioceses of Birmingham and Coventry can be searched by parish (173 from Alcester to Wootten Wawen), by Owner or by Occupier, each title expanded to show details of plot location, size and land-use. Another survey of Victuallers from 1801-1828 opens to reveal: the name of each publican, the title of his/her pub, and the parish, hamlet and street in which it was situated. A third database opens the Calendars of Prisoners held in Warwick, Coventry and Birmingham Gaols from 1800 to 1900. Step one raises an index of 214 offences listed, from Abandonment of Family, via Bawdy Houses, Sedition and Railway Vandalism down to Wounding and Theft. Each offence bears an initial interactive “twister” from which step two calls up, e.g. Arson, 149 cases from 1841 to 1899, listed by surnames of Accused or Victims with date and locality of each crime. Step three, by activating any surname, we learn the name of an accused, such as Caroline Ballard, aged 13 accused of arson in 1856, the verdict (discharged) and catalogue reference to the location of the record. Additional accessions, 70,000 items to date (17%) of the county’s collections are already entered and up-dated regularly. This data offers only a brief “collection level” description and as yet no digital images.
It is a simple matter to raise any repository’s website. Regardless of lengthy hyperlinks, merely Google e.g. Warwickshire CRO. This raises 97,975 entries. Searching by place name in Bedfordshire Record Office produces 47 references to Barford and 58 to Caddington. ”Manorial records” + “ Cornwall” offers an astounding collection of 192,424 entries on 100 pages. Each entry has its reference number and can be opened to offer details of content.
The ultimate level is reached e.g: by Leicester University’s website on Commercial Directories. http://www.historicaldirectories.org/hd/ud/usingdir4.asp This produces a virtual library of books, hundreds of Directories, each reproduced in complete facsimile from cover to cover and title page by page to a practical Index capable of interpreting “fuzzy search”. This is the complete fusion of real book with website.