Saturday, 8 February 2014

A Visit to the Carlisle Archive Centre

When researching it’s always vital to look at original records if you can. This principle was proved true yesterday when we made a trip to carry out some research at the Carlisle Archive Centre to help a client overcome a brick wall.

Using online resources, such as the IGI, we had found marriage entries. As this time we were researching in England, so we knew we were unlikely to find parents’ names on a pre-1837 marriage entry in the parish registers. Why look at the original then? If you live a distance from an archive with the records you need it may be a corner you decide to cut.

In England the registers of births and marriages before civil registration began in 1837 are very good, especially when seen in comparison to many Scottish Old Parish Records. One reason we say they are ‘good’ is that they are relatively complete. Also there are “Bishop’s Transcripts”, which were copies of the parish registers sent to the Bishop annually. This means even if the original has been lost, in many cases a copy remains. Of course unlike Scotland you rarely get mothers’ maiden names appearing on baptism entries, but we can’t have everything can we!

Things to remember:

  • Whilst a contemporary source the Bishop’s Transcripts are a copy of the original register.
  • An original post-1754 parish marriage entry will have the signatures (or marks, if they could not write) of the couple, and in the case of signatures these can be used as comparisons with other documents.
  • There are at least two witnesses to a marriage. Sometimes, although by no means always, it is a family member, which can give a vital clue to overcome a brick wall.
  • The original parish register entry may mention a farm name, or a small village within the parish. All these added details help to narrow down your search.
  • Errors are made in indexing, even the best indexing projects will contain mistakes. Look at the original if you can.

Carlisle Archive Centre

It’s great now that more and more parish register material is becoming available online. Sites like and have opened up genealogy to people across the world and often give access to images of original documents. They are not the only good websites though, there are many smaller sites operated by local people across England helping you to dig into your past.

Local Archives too can help by mailing you copies of the original parish registers. The local family history society can not only offer expertise but may also have copies of the registers on microfilm.

So don’t settle for a transcription, especially if you have a brick wall in your tree: always look at the original if you can!

As I said we went to the Carlisle Archive Centre yesterday. It’s a relatively new building, although it’s joined to an older building.

Carlisle Archive Centre

As you can see from my photos the archive itself is bright and airy, very comfortable for research. There are plenty of microfilm readers and a good number of machines to make copies from. Copies from microfilm are fifty pence each and you pay at the desk when you are finished.

The archive has two sections: the first room is for looking at books, microfilm etc., and the second is for looking at original records. Both have large tables so you can lay your notepad and laptop out without bothering other users!

They have plenty of lockers in the reception and you can use your County Archive Research Network reader’s ticket that you may have from another county archive.

They allow digital photography which is excellent, although they do make a charge:

1 Day licence: £8
1 Week licence: £20
1 Month licence: £45
1 year licence:  £90
1 year licence (corporate users): £140

They say it’s to “... help generate the income we need to protect front line services.”

I noticed a number of help sheets around the room and everything was very neatly labeled so if you’re new to genealogy there will be plenty of information to help you. The staff too were very friendly, explaining how the archive works succinctly!

All in all, five stars for Carlisle Archive!

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