I’ve banged on about this before, but it really is essential to look at original sources whenever possible, rather than rely on transcriptions. And it’s even more important NOT to rely just on an entry in an index, but to look at the actual document.
This week I was back at the William Salt Library, and decided to spend an hour at Staffordshire Records Office, which is conveniently housed in an adjacent building. I don’t often get the chance to visit Stafford, and my list of sources contained one or two things to look up when time allowed.
Amongst these was a document held by the Records Office, which was described in the on-line catalogue as a discharge from apprenticeship. The full catalogue description was “Discharge of John Legge from his apprenticeship with George Pearson of Wolverhampton, coffee mill maker, 15 Feb 1842”.
Now, there is absolutely wrong with this description.
What was wrong was the two assumptions that I had made about the nature of the document.
Firstly, I had assumed that this was a standard deed releasing John Legge from the apprenticeship after he had completed his 7 year term.
Secondly, I had assumed that I didn’t really need to see this document: that it would contain no more essential information than was in the description.
(I should emphasize again that there was nothing wrong with the catalogue description: it is an index, not a transcription.)
To my delight, the document was in fact a deed, signed and sealed by two Justices of the Peace, releasing John Legge from his apprenticeship because his master “hath misused and evil treated him.. particularly for unmercifuly beating him with a whip.”
And I’d nearly missed it. And more importantly, the only evidence that I’d discovered to date about the treatment of young persons employed in this particular industry suggested that they were treated reasonably by the lights of the time, and much better than most.
So, the moral: ALWAYS look beyond the index.
Which leaves me with another question: what happened to George Pearson’s three other apprentices?