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General Guide and Introduction to the Archive


A. Start with the printed material

Both Stock's History of the Church Missionary Society (for the years 1799-1915) and Hewitt's The Problems of Success (dealing with the period 1910-42) will give you the background for the mission area you will need to study. Both have name and place indices; Stock's are particularly comprehensive. If your interest is in the overseas part of the Society's work you will then need the "Proceedings" or Annual Reports which list all the missionaries each year arranged under the mission in which they work. Each mission has its own series of archives and it is essential to know the names of the missions rather than the names of the countries as they do not always correspond. For example Nigeria had three missions but the earliest Yoruba mission papers are to be found in the Sierra Leone mission series, as until 1844 all West Africa affairs were administered locally by the Sierra Leone mission secretary. In a similar way the work in Uganda was administered as part of the East Africa mission from 1889 to 1897 and in the "Proceedings" for those years the Uganda missionaries are listed with those working in Kenya and their letters are to be found in the Kenya mission archive series.

The "Proceedings" also include a summary of affairs for each mission which until the 1930s is in considerable detail and includes quotations from letters and reports. The Society's periodicals, such as the C M Gleaner and C M Intelligencer contain not only articles on CMS and mission affairs but also lengthy extracts from journals, reports and letters sent by missionaries and others.

Reading printed material has the additional advantage that it enables you to become familiar with, for example, the nineteenth century spellings of place names, before you are faced with difficult to read manuscript material.

B. Read the catalogues

There are catalogues for all the departments/divisions at headquarters. The records of the foreign departments cannot be understood properly without consulting the papers of the other departments. Please note also that entries in the mission series catalogues draw attention to particular papers, not by assessment of their possible importance for mission work, but on the basis of whether the document or its content may be viewed as unusual in the context of routine mission business.

The catalogues for the mission series include summary notes on the development of the work, giving the main stations; the arrangement and classification of the mission archive series; notes about the citing of reference numbers; lists of the names and dates of office of the Secretaries with primary responsibility for the mission area; lists of the General Secretaries and the Lay (Financial) Secretaries for the period covered by the catalogue. The names are given in full which is necessary as many of the papers are initialled after being read and it is often vital to know which Secretary or other member of staff has dealt with the item.

The catalogues for the other departments at headquarters include lists of Secretaries and officers; a history of the department; a note about the citing of reference numbers and occasionally notes of any relevant material in other departments' papers.

C. Search the card indexes

The main indexes (name, place and subject) contain entries from all the mission catalogues, plus the usual mass of useful information found when listing or browsing through the archives. They will eventually cover all the catalogues. Occasionally an individual document or correspondence series has been indexed in minute detail e.g. the correspondence within the British Isles in the 1872-1901 series in the General Secretary's papers (ref:G/AC4). As the pre-1880 mission catalogues list the missionares and agents in alphabetical order and also give their mission stations it has been possible to incorporate in the place index an alphabetical list of agents (with dates) for each station. In a similar way there are lists of the CEZMS stations with their agents. The name index also includes lists of CEZMS and FES missionaries, authors of articles in the C M Intelligencer and Mercy and Truth and obituaries in the C M Intelligencer and the C M Gleaner. For both names and places there are indexes of the illustrations in the periodicals C M Gleaner and Mercy and Truth. These indexes in particular are invaluable as nearly always the presence of an illustration means that there is something else about the subject in the contents of the periodical.

How to search by person

If the person you are interested in is a missionary, the first item to consult is the Register of Missionaries, which gives the biographical details together with details of where the missionary worked. Check in the "Proceedings" to find which mission the place is listed under. The overseas mission section of the archive is divided into three periods 1799-1880, 1880-1934 and 1935-1949. Each period has its own type of archive.

For the period 1799-1880 you will find letters to the missionary from the Secretaries in London in the outgoing letter-book series; letters from the missionary will be in the series called "original papers incoming".

For the period 1880-1934 you will find the letters to the missionary from the secretaries in London in the letter-books, but for the letters from the missionary you will need to work your way through the précis books. These are a set of volumes containing the précis of all the papers sent to London from the mission numbered year by year in the order in which they arrived in London. They are printed or typed and each entry gives the number of the item, the date it was written and received, the name of the writer and the précis of the contents. The originals of these papers are kept in packets arranged numerically year by year. All you need is the number of the item and the year. Be careful because you need the year in which the committee dealt with the item, not necessarily the year in which the item was written. For example, the January committee meeting each year obviously dealt with December letters and in that case the December letter will be found in the January year. The number itself will give a clue in many cases. A high number is not likely to be dealt with in January. The précis is useful if there are not many letters because it is quick to use, but it is also useful because some of the items are missing from the series because they were transferred to other departments after the précis clerks had dealt with them, e.g. the Finance department dealt with requests for grants from trust funds and the Editorial department published the Annual Letters and kept the originals in their own papers.

For the period post-1934 the incoming and outgoing correspondence was kept together in each file. The files for each mission series consist of correspondence with the mission secretary, minutes of local governing bodies, correspondence with the bishop (arranged by dioceses), educational institutions, places and medical institutions. For these it is essential to know where the missionary was working.

Remember that with the entire overseas correspondence for any period there will be much about the missionary in the mission secretary's papers and possibly also among the diocesan and bishop's papers if he was a clergyman.

The first contact a prospective missionary had with the Society was when he applied to CMS. The earliest letters from prospective candidates are to be found in the papers of the General Secretary's department. As they are part of a massive series of incoming correspondence within the whole of the British Isles (ref:G/AC 3) which at present is largely unindexed it is easiest to work through the indexes to the main series of Committee minutes which until 1853 have an exhaustive name index in each volume. The entries note the receipt of letters with their date. Many of the originals do not survive but there is often a very adequate summary of their contents in the minutes.

There are also registers of candidates, each volume having an index. They include people who did not actually become missionaries. The volumes do not give much detail but include the names and often the addresses of their referees. They also usually include the address of the candidate.

Letters from prospective missionaries for the period before 1867 are included in the series of correspondence within the British Isles (G/AC 3) until they finally sailed from England i.e. while they were sailing round the English coast their letters were included in the G/AC 3 series. When they came home on furlough their letters were again entered in the General Secretary's volumes, but they may also occur in the appropriate mission series. After they retired or left CMS their letters revert to the General Secretary's series again.

There are some papers relating solely to missionaries in the Finance department's papers and the series of the Goodwin Fund for Widows is particularly useful for information on missionaries' children 1852-1888.

For anyone who is not known to be a missionary the simplest way is to start with the main name card index. For committee members there is some information in the General Secretary's papers, but for the most part there is no personal information about anyone other than the missionaries. Even the Secretaries themselves are often not described. But the obituaries in the C M Gleaner and C M Intelligencer are all included in the name index and these often provide a few clues.

How to search by place

The place index includes lists of the CMS missionaries at each station for the period pre-1880. It also includes similar cards for the CEZMS and FES staff. The most important thing to remember with places is that for the mission series the place will be in the archive series to which CMS administratively allotted it. In other words the place may be in Uganda, but if it was being administered by the Kenya mission secretary then the archives about it will be in the Kenya series.

How to search by subject

Obviously subjects are the most difficult to deal with and if you can possibly discover a person or place vitally connected with your subject your task will be much simpler. If the subject involves looking at the mission archive series for a limited period, say a decade, then for the pre-1880 period it would probably be simpler to work your way through the mission books rather than the incoming papers; for example the development of the Church in Sierra Leone in the 1840s or the history of the causes of the war known as the Indian Mutiny.

For correspondence with the Foreign Office and government you need the General Secretary's papers, though there is also a series of correspondence with the Foreign Office for 1876-1900 in the Finance department.

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