Thanks to a scholarship of the German Historical Institute London, I have spent several months of last year (September 2021 to November 2021) in several english cities (Birmingham, London) and welsh cities (Aberystwyth, Pembrokeshire, Milford Haven) in order to undertake archival research in a number of Archives, Museums and Libraries.
In the Cadbury Research Library of the University of Birmingham I was able to read (and to copy) extensive amounts of manuscripts of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Stations and its actors at the Bay of Islands (roughly from the period between 1814 until 1840). Adopting on one particular meeting minute of the CMS in London, I summarized my PhD research project for the blog of the German Historical Institute. I remain very grateful for this wonderful opportunity of the GHIL and thank Dr. Marcus Meer for the lectoring process.
Academic research is never a linear, clear and straight-forwarded process, as it seems to look like in CVs. It requires or leds often to decisions, thinking, overthinking, neglection, the (over-)emphasis or the overlooking of aspects and research questions, approaches and methods.
My research stay in the Pembrokeshire Records Office demonstrated me, that sometimes, just small hand-written notes can point to further, bigger, sources and manuscripts than one might expect, but lets start from the beginning.
What did happen?
The third stopover of my research stay (20.-22. Oct. 2021) brought me to Haverfordwest to the Pembrokeshire Record Office. The city of Haverfordwest is at the very western part of Wales and very small. And calm. Very calm to be precise. Ironically, one of the few life-signs of the city was the long queue of old people waiting for their Covid Booster vaccinations at the entrance of the Pembrokeshire Record Office.
A very brief and vague online catalogue entry titled “GB 213 D/BT – Records of the Starbuck family of Nantucket Island and Milford Haven” [c. 1660]-1954, brought me to this little public office. I arrived with no expectations and did not expect to encounter a treasure.
In this box, i found a finding aid of no less than 69 different manuscripts, properly ordered and explained, relating to the Starbuck family with documents dating back as early as the 1660s, which list the names of the first 10 settlers and each of their partners in Nantucket. Among the material in the box, there were also several epistles of Quaker meetings held in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Later on, the archive staff kindly pointed me also to a transcribed online finding aid, that exists on their homepage. I stayed only for several days, because the archive had only open Thursdays and Fridays. In these two days, I was busy with picturing every manuscript and book, which I had found beforehand, and I did not saw the time to actually read or go through the material.
The race against the short opening times of Archives, in particular in rural and far-away places, is an experience, which my supervisor Eva Bischoff had always kept telling me: “You always find the most interesting things at the very last moment close to the closing hours”.
Until last week, I claimed for myself not to face such situations and always thought: “This will not happen to me, I will search the archive database properly and clearly and nothing then will be left”.
Well, so far, so naive. I had taken a pictures of the detailed finding aid, and I might have been blended by the dark-censored lines, or while taking pictures, I automatically focussed on the terms “Land” and “NANTUCKET ISLAND”, which draw my very attention. Having my research questions in mind, this might be totally reasonable, you might argue. What else could be important here, you might wonder.
This short notice here: “See also HDX/1018”
I realized this, when I went through the picture again, and when i checked the reference. “Ah, yeah, this surely, cannot be that important”, but you never know, better double checked than regretting once. So, i used the database, which the archive staff had introduced me.
And yees, it was important. I have barely experienced such an importance and urgency of any sources during my research stay in UK here (ok, I admitt thats exaggeration.) The refence’s name titled: HDX/1018 – Deeds and Documents from the Milford Haven Town sounds very promising and includes even more promising Dokuments.
And guess what: by checking the reference signature and by using further keywords such as Milford Haven etc., further material came across, which was invisible before.
HDX/250/1 – Copy of the genealogy of the Nantucket and Milford Quaker families
HDX/250/2 – Copy of the diary of Abial Colmen Folger, wife of Timothy Folger
HDX/380/1 – Description of Milford Haven in thr 19th century
HDX/380/4 – draft pedigree of the Starbuck family of Milford Haven
HDX/380/5 – Manuscript history of the Starbuck family
HDX/380/9 – General Notes on Milford Haven
HDX/380/13 – Notes on Milford Haven
HDX/486/1-4 – Historic Nantucket Journals
HDX/1726/2 – Notes from the diary of Thomas Clarkson, anti-slavery campaigner, who visited Pembrokeshire in 1824
HDX/1929/1 – Lease book for the Milford Haven Estate, relating to leases dated 1801-1881
Long story, short: I will travel wednesday to Haverfordwest again, and will have Thursday and Friday time to read the listed manusripts here and by writing these lines, i realize now that one of my biggest issues will be the race against the time.