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Berkshire Family Historian
March 2002

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, March 2002 Contents

The Royal Borough Museum Collection

Olivia Gooden

There is little doubt that the Internet is beginning to dominate family history research. Over the past 20 years genealogy has undergone a dramatic change with resources like the IGI and online facilities from the Public Record Office, the Society of Genealogists and many county record offices. Just this year perhaps one of the most extensive and exciting trends has been the opening of the 1901 census on the Internet.

But we continue to rely on books, parish registers and census returns. For those starting out there is plenty of good advice on what records to look for, and how to navigate one's way around places such as the Public Record Office and the Family Records Centre. Many people will begin their family history research by visiting a local library and sometimes a local record office. Others will begin a search on the Internet and many will join a local family history society. But how many people will think of making use of a potentially very rich source of information which is right under their noses - their local museum?

Family and local history are inextricably linked. For those whose ancestors were born and bred in the same area, a local museum can provide a mine of historical information, which sets family history in context and can sometimes help answer those elusive questions family historians frequently encounter. Local history museums (most, though by no means all, towns or boroughs in England are served by one) can assist in ways you may not have thought possible. In researching your family history it becomes necessary to get a feel for the kind of life your ancestors led, and the types of objects and documents collected by the local museum often cover a whole range of human activity: from education, industry, trade and religious life to military, civic and social life. Museum objects help to piece together the jigsaw and build up a picture of what life was like for people in the past, the curiosity for which underpins much family history. You may have discovered that your ancestor was a serviceman, for example, and the local museum may have examples of the regimental badges worn by him, or a uniform or even a photograph of the ship he served on. Or perhaps you will find photographs of the street your ancestors lived in, or the schools and churches they attended, or examples of the tools and equipment they used in their work.

The Royal Borough Museum Collection (RBMC) is the local history museum collection for the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. It comprises some 6,000 items which give a picture of life in the area from prehistoric times to today. These items range from archaeological finds, maps, paintings, prints and drawings to models, photographs, books, costume and miscellaneous objects. The whole of the borough is covered, from Bisham to Horton and Eton Wick to Sunningdale, including the three main towns of Windsor, Maidenhead and Ascot, although the bulk of the collection relates to Windsor.

Newspapers are a valuable source of information for family history, and the RBMC has a limited, but representative, collection of original and copy newspapers; some copies of the Windsor & Eton Express (generally one edition only) for individual years from 1871 to some copies of the Illustrated London News, 1862 and 1868, as well as the Windsor & Eton Gazette and the Slough Eton & Windsor Observer.

We also hold a paper copy of the 1881 census for the area, which many visitors find easier to read than the microfilm in the library.

Street directories are another important resource, and currently the RBMC has several copies of Kelly's Directories of Windsor (various dates) and Directories of Berkshire (1920 and 1935) and one of Reading (1958). There are also a large number of books in the collection relating to local history, which will provide useful background material for family historians.

A major source of information for those whose ancestors were known to have served in the Great War is the RBMC's Ken Shepherd Archive. Ken Shepherd was a local man who spent much of his life tracing names on war memorials in the Windsor area. He researched around 6oo men remembered on memorials in Clewer, Dedworth, Windsor and Eton Wick. An index of the archive was created after Ken's untimely death in 1994, a copy of which is held by the RBMC. The Ken Shepherd Archive does not cover men who served in the Berkshire Regiment who are covered on other memorials, but it is an excellent resource for family historians tracing ancestors lost in the First World War.1 The RBMC also holds some records of research carried out by a local historian on war memorials in Maidenhead.

There are other documents relating to servicemen in the museum collection, such as death certificates, pension books and letters, as well as a collection of military service medals and costume. Museum collections can evoke the past in a unique way. A soldier called William Woolhouse who served in the First World War, for example, is well represented in the RBMC by a paybook, pension book, discharge certificate and motor licence, amongst other items. It is moving to read the postcard sent by William Woolhouse to his mother at Eton Wick when he was a prisoner of war in Germany, and then to learn that he was granted a place in 1925 in one of the 'homes for heroes' of the First World War in South View, the first council houses in Eton Wick.2

A sample of the material in the Museum

There are items relating to the Berkshire Provincial Yeomanry Company, the Royal Berkshire Regiment and a number of photographs, newspaper cuttings, a helmet, torch and medals belonging to members of the Dyson family in connection with Windsor Volunteer Fire Brigade. Local groups and societies, from scout groups, swimming associations, football teams and rowing clubs are all represented in the RBMC by photographs, programmes, tickets, cups and trophies. A recent acquisition of minute books, correspondence and costume regulation books from the Windsor Ladies Swimming Club, provides a fascinating resource for local family historians who may have known a relative involved with the swimming club.

School records can be of real value to the family historian. The RBMC has some school certificates of attendance and excellence, registers, photographs of pupils, school play programmes and some report cards - for example, a set of reports for a Jocelyn Stubbs at Maidenhead County Girls School in 1956, on which her mathematics teacher has written: 'She must now learn to set out her figures more tidily!'

If your ancestor was involved in civic life, the RBMC has some material relating to mayors and councillors. There are several portraits of mayors of Maidenhead, including Lord Desborough, Alderman Richard Silver, Joseph Clark, Richard Withal and Alderman Hewitt. Key historical figures, such as Doris Mellor, Charles Knight Jnr. and Snr., Sydney and Frederick Camm and Samuel Logan are all represented by archives, photographs and books in the collection.

Photographs will provide the family historian with a great deal of assistance, but only if they are clearly identified on the back. There are over 1000 photographs in the RBMC, many of them providing useful background information on specific places, buildings, events or fashions. You may even be lucky enough to spot someone you know whilst browsing through them. Maps are another key resource for family history research, and there are a large number of maps of various dates (copies and originals) in the collection, from ordnance survey maps of the local area to plans of the towns and villages of the Royal Borough.

The Royal Borough Museum Collection is open to the public on Wednesdays, and other days by appointment. RBMC, Tinkers Lane, Windsor, 5L4 4LR. Tel: 01628 796829. Email:.

1 Berkshire Family Historian, Vol 19, No.3, March 1996 and Vol 20, No.4, June 1997 for short articles on the Ken Shepherd Archive

2 Judith Hunter, The Story of a Village: Eton Wick (2000, Eton Wick Local History Group)

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updated 28th May 2002