Genealogical Libraries – #LibrariesWeek

I talked about Guildford library yesterday and we stay with that location for today’s post.

Guildford library housed, when I began my genealogical and local history research, a rather fantastic set of local history material located on the top floor of the library. Despite it’s location it was in fact part of the Surrey Records Office, which also housed material at the Muniment Room, Guildford and at Kingston upon Thames.

I remember tentatively reaching the top floor and  found there was an open section of local history books etc and a enclosed area which housed the archive element of the collection. I explained to the librarian, who was called Mavis, what I wanted and suddenly a new world of material was available to me. Mavis was an inspirational individual, had she been less helpful or less welcoming I might not have ever gone back, but she was fantastic and it was her actions that set me on the pathway of genealogy, family and local history. Every genealogist should have a Mavis in their memory bank!

It was Mavis who shared my joy when I located my Great Grandmother, aged 3 on the 1881 Census. What was so magical, was that I remember my Great Grandmother, who allowed me to snuggle with her, aged 3, when I visited with my Mum and Grandparents. By then, Granny as she was known was an elderly lady in her 90’s and living with her eldest daughter (my Grandfather’s sister) and her husband. I have many happy memories of those visits both as a snuggling 3 years old and as an note book holding adult, recording numerous genealogical notes.

As I reflected when I wrote this post, we have come a long way since then. At the time, the latest Census available was 1881. I remember the subsequent release of each of the 1891, 1901 and 1911 Census, and of course, the 1921 Census release is just around the corner. These days, we can search our census records from the comfort of our homes, dressed in our PJ’s if we like. In the days of my experience of locating Granny in the 1881 Census, we had to visit the archives to search those Census materials. We extracted the film from the box and loaded it to the reader, threading the film. We moved through the film until we found who we wanted to locate, some of us letting out a small exclamation of “got you!” Those of us who were regulars at the Guildford local studies library recognised each other and often enjoyed conversations and shared the joy of those “got you!” moments.

I spent many hours at that local studies library, researching my Surrey family and those from the parishes of North Hampshire. I was very lucky to have such easy access to such a repository. Years later the library moved across to the newly build Surrey History Centre and whilst it was great to have everything in the new one stop shop for Surrey heritage, those days with Mavis and the other staff were great, the knowledge of the material and locations was second to none. They were enjoyable years, but whether it is the years of the late 1980’s or yesterday, we are lucky to have the expertise of librarians and archivists. The contribution they make is huge and they are often under valued.


Libraries Week takes place in the UK from 5 – 10  October. You can read more HERE. You can become a lifelong library supporter – more details HERE

About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
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