Enabling hands-on experience in the College Archives, and a pupil’s perspective on conducting research
In the College Archives, we receive many enquiries from people whose ancestors attended, taught, or worked at Eton throughout its history. Supporting research into family history is an important part of our work, and we especially encourage enquiries from young people interested in the history of the College. Learning to use archives begins with curiosity, and tangible links to the past can inspire students to conduct their own research. Even where the historical record is incomplete, we can often glimpse into a person’s time at the College by illustrating through contemporary records, photographs, and paintings what Eton would have been like while they were here.
We recently displayed a selection of archival material for a group of Eton students, showing a range of materials about Old Etonians. On display were early administrative records of the College, including the School Clerk’s Register, Head Master’s Entrance Book, and the Bill Book–which records misbehaviours and punishments!—and scrapbooks and photographs from different areas of school life, including sport and academic societies, diaries, and letters sent home. Together they paint a picture of life at the College that may otherwise be lost to time.
LEFT: Album of photographs taken 1938-1941 [PA-A.37]. RIGHT: School Clerk’s Register for 1878-1907 [SCH SC 01 01]
Charlie Rollo (NTPL) writes about using the College Archives to research his family history:
Conducting research on ancestors who lived over 100 years ago at first appeared to be no easy task, but the College’s impressive collection of archives and records made the job significantly easier. The information I was able to dig out spanned from information about houses to sports photos, and even to specific individuals who were a part of my relatives’ Eton lives, such as tutors. The volume of archives held by the Collections both physically and virtually was immense, but with the help of coherent search filters, and an experienced team of archivists, I was able to surface substantially more information than I had ever expected. Despite the significant period of time between me and my OE relatives, I was able to systemically work through registers and logs from the College’s databases. In areas where my discoveries were sparse, the more knowledgeable archivists could take over and fill in the gaps. Unearthing long lost memories and photos not only filled me with excitement, but rediscovered long lost memories of my family members’ childhoods. From my findings, I expanded my knowledge of Eton’s history, particularly between the 19th and 20th centuries, and was able to draw remarkable comparisons and contrasts to the Eton which exists today.
Accessing the archives
- The School Clerks Registers for 1878-1945 have been fully digitised for the College Collections’ Digital Resources.
- For enquiries about Old Etonians, records about academic or sporting achievements from the registers or the school magazine are also digitised and searchable, here.
- Materials from the Archives and College Library Collections can be viewed by appointment in our Readers’ Room or Virtual Readers’ Room. Our online catalogue can be searched here.