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Family History Society

The Wonders of The Library Catalogue or how I came to fight my way through an imaginary net curtain


I struggled to come up with a title that would grab your attention as I knew ‘The Library Catalogue‘ just wouldn’t do it. I thought ‘The Life Changing Library Catalogue‘ didn’t quite have the right ring to it as in the scheme of things it seems such a small achievement but there are years and years of work by a series of long term volunteers at the Family History Centre behind it. I take this opportunity to thank the most recent incumbent, Elsie Smith, who has just retired after many years of dedicated sorting, sifting, weeding and cataloguing of the many books and publications that find their way through the door of the centre. Let us not forget all those who have kindly donated these books in the first place and just last week a couple of boxes of intriguing ‘stuff’ were dropped off at the centre.


In the boxes there may be many gems that need to find their way to the library but then again there may not. One person’s treasure may well be another’s recycling material and someone has to make a judgment. Circumstances change and our wonderful library has to change with it. We are fortunate that at the moment we have lots of room to keep shelves of this and boxes of that but it may not always be the case. If you visit the centre you will see boxes and boxes of duplicate material on sale and I picked up a copy of the Society of Dorset Men in London Year Book 1911/12  for £5 which I have added to my personal collection of books and catalogues of Sherborne. I find these catalogues invaluable in the way they paint a picture for us of what life might have been like. They often contain advertisements for local shops and businesses and their very existence was there at the time to promote the town and what it stood for.



Let me give you a for instance. I have a copy of Illustrated Sherborne 1903 and it is all about promoting the local hunts and that horses can be stabled about the town. Visitors from London are urged to bring their horses with them by train. One of the local cafes even offers ‘stabling for any number of cycles’ proving that the train, the horse and the bicycle were clearly the way to go in 1903.









Go forward to Illustrated Sherborne 1927 and although the Digby Hotel is still advertising the availability of its stables it is now also an agent for the AA and RAC and so proof is here that we are moving into the era of the motorist.

By leafing through a copy of The Sherborne Motorist, written by John House, you will find lots of photos of garages, petrol stations and more that existed in the Sherborne area beginning with a photograph of the 1895 Horseless Carriage built by Petters of Yeovil with the body constructed by Hill and Boll, also of Yeovil, that will help further your understanding of the impact that the coming of the motor car had on the town.

But back to the library and my imaginary ‘net curtain’. When I first began to volunteer at the centre, on a Friday morning, I used to wander about the library trying to get to know what it contained – a fascinating though frustrating exercise. Elsie Smith was usually on hand on a Thursday sitting at the computer that contained the library catalogue and she would always be pleased to look something up for me if I knew what I wanted to look up but on a Friday Elsie was not about, the computer was not switched on and although I am happy with the computers I know and love I do not have the same feelings about the computer that contained the library list and so I stayed well clear of it. Then suddenly the net curtain was lifted for me and I had the magic key to this mysterious collection as it was announced via the website and the Greenwood Tree that a searchable library list was now available via the Society’s website: www.sdfhs.org, go to ‘About’ then ‘Family History Centre’, scroll down to ‘Library’ and you will find it. I downloaded a copy and put it in my iBooks on my iPad and now I can carry it around with me and search away to my heart’s content!reduced-men-of-dorset

Let’s return to the Society of Dorset Men in London Year Book and I will do a ‘search’ on the library catalogue, now sitting safely on my iPad, and what do I find? The library has 11 copies ranging from 1904 to 1911. In my own copy I am fascinated by the lists of men living in London but even more so by those scattered abroard in 31 different countries. For example 30 are living in Canada, 38 in Australia, 32 in India – this list contains many men serving with the Dorset Regiment – 2 in Fiji, 1 in Brazil,  94 in New Zealand and 114 resident on the African continent.


Can I also tell you about an enquiry we received last week from someone who asked if we had anything on Freemasons. All the computers were in use and so we did not immediately turn to Ancestry for the answers, as is so often the case, and searched the library catalogue instead under ‘freemasons’ and came up with a very rewarding box full of little handbooks listing Somerset members from 1932-1959 (one of the books contained a helpful list of all the nationwide lodges) and although our enquiry concerned someone in Sussex this proved to be valuable information as it means these handbooks would have been issued to members wherever they may have lived. A word of warning you must search accurately and try differing versions of the word you are searching under if you can for instance had I tried ‘freemasonry’ I would have come up with a book entitled History of Dorset Freemasonry Revealed 1736-2000. It doesn’t work like Google where however inaccurately you type your search it seems to come up with the goods, here the searcher must work a little harder to reap the undoubted rewards.

So wherever you are if you are able to download a copy of the catalogue and find out what we hold at the Family History Centre in Sherborne you may find something there of interest to you. Perhaps your virtual rootle around will lead to an actual one and you will visit the Centre to search the library for yourself. I do hope so.

Barbara Elsmore

20 February 2017

Member and Guest Blogs Welcome

We welcome guest and member blog posts on any topic with a family history connection and invite you to send your contributions, which should include photo/photos, to the editor Barbara Elsmore