Even the price of his braces
I was searching State Records NSW (the NSW Government archives), looking for background information about my ancestor Samuel HOLMES (otherwise known as Samuel ETHERINGTON – but that’s another story).
A “keyname search” (searching almost all the digital indexes) of the NSW State Records led me to the Insolvency Index, which informed me that Samuel HOLMES, a baker of Sydney, was declared insolvent in July 1862.
Insolvency was the inability to pay your debts, and was originally treated as different to Bankruptcy, which involved a person’s assets being administered and distributed to creditors. Insolvency doesn’t appear to have been particularly unusual – at least not amongst my ancestors – some of whom were declared insolvent or bankrupt a number of times in their lives.
Finding someone’s name in an index should only be the beginning of the story. Almost invariably the full document holds more information than the index entry.
In this case Samuel was also declared bankrupt (in December 1862), and corresponding notices appeared in the NSW Government Gazettes of 1862. The Government Gazette notices were as business-like as any government notice, but the real gems were discovered in the original documents. Those documents can be seen at the Western Sydney Records Centre (of NSW State Records) at Kingswood. In Samuel’s Insolvency file were all the invoices he could not pay.
If Samuel knew in July 1862 that he would be unable to pay his bills, it does not seem to have curbed his spending, as his September 1862 quarterly account from the David Jones (department store) indicates. This invoice includes: 6 white shirts (3 pounds), 6 Cambric handkerchiefs (1 pound, 5 shillings), 1 pair of braces (4 shillings) – and even a bottle of scent (another 4 shillings).
Such documents tell so much more about this ancestor (and his fashion sense!) than an unemotional announcement of his debts, and certainly rewarded the effort of obtaining the original records behind the index entry.