Cataloguing the Graham Family Archive

by Miriam van der Molen, Archivist, Maynooth University Library

A selection of material from the Graham Family Archive

An exhibition of material from the Graham Family Archive will be on display outside the Special Collections Reading Room in the John Paul II Library from the beginning of June until 23 June 2018.

In 2016 I catalogued the papers of the Graham family from Belfast who were Catholic wine and spirit merchants. Initially I looked through the boxes of documents to get an idea of content. Some documents were folded and tied together into bundles with ribbon. This was a typical way of storing legal papers from the nineteenth to early twentieth century. For papers not in any bundles, I had to figure out the link between documents.

Physical Condition: Dust and Mould

Many documents were very dusty and had rusty paperclips and pins, so I used the archivist’s traditional tools: the smoke sponge to clean and the archival quality paperclip to replace any rusty specimens. Looking through more materials, I discovered some items that were brittle due to weakening from water damage and resulting mould growth, which also caused severe stains in some cases. In order to remove the mould with smoke sponges, I wore a mask and gloves to minimise contact with spores. I also used a low-power vacuum cleaner for the mould so that it would not end up floating in all directions!

Mould damage 1
Mould Damage

Whenever something was in very poor condition, I recorded this in CALM, the archival cataloguing software, where our conservators can see it and do conservation work where needed.

First Section: People

The most challenging part of the arrangement (organisation) and description (cataloguing) of the Graham Papers was figuring out the family ties, through discovering what a woman’s married and maiden names were. It was also difficult when a person’s first name was not mentioned. For example, ‘Mrs Graham’ could mean the wife, or daughter-in-law, of a man with the surname Graham.

I created a series for non-business material, arranged by surname. I further sub-divided this into individual files relating to individual people and their papers.  I decided to put women under their maiden surnames, and then specify who they had married, if they had married, thereby establishing the link between their birth and married families. I created a family tree as I went, which helped enormously.

The many legal papers included wills and probates, solicitors’ bills and letters to and from solicitors. In addition to this, there is also more personal material. For example, Thomas Graham Junior was the executor of his uncle’s will on the latter’s death in 1870. The uncle, Thomas Graham Senior, appears to have had no surviving children, so he bequeathed his possessions to nieces and nephews. Thomas Junior, as executor, administered Thomas Senior’s money, including to his widow, Elizabeth Graham, née Magorian, who inherited very little. There are touchingly personal letters from Elizabeth to Thomas Junior, her nephew, asking for money because she would like to go out and buy potatoes, and also letters expressing her loneliness and wishing her nephew would visit her.

The Archive also includes documentation of the appointment of Thomas Graham Junior as Justice of Peace in 1893, as well as the appointment of William Joseph Graham, his son, as Justice of the Peace. (More information on the first document can be found here:

Thomas Graham’s appointment as Justice of the Peace for County Down


The Seal showing Queen Victoria


The oldest item in the Archive is a will made by John Bowden in 1871, which shows typical unstandardised eighteenth century spelling.

The will of John Bowden, an ancestor of Mary Josephine Bowden,                                          whom Thomas Graham Junior married


Second Section: Keegan Graham and Company

As well as material that has to do with the personal affairs of individuals, there is material relating to the wine and spirit business, Keegan Graham and Company. The business was begun by James Keegan in 1834. Thomas Graham Junior joined as a partner in 1881. This business material was arranged into a second series. This material has to do with accounts, the renting of the property in High Street in Belfast for the use of the business, and the partnership agreement between John Joseph Keegan (James Keegan’s son) and Thomas Graham Junior. Eventually, in 1906, the widow of James Keegan withdrew as a partner, some years after her son John Joseph had died, and the business was dissolved.

Third Section: Other Material

Recipe for La Grande Chartreuse

The third series contains material which did not fit into the first or second series. Ideally, archivists prefer not to have an ‘other’ section, but this is sometimes the only way to accommodate them! The third series includes two newspapers, one from 1834 and one from 1869. There is also a recipe which an unknown person writes they got from ‘a French paper’, for making La Grande Chartreuse (a medieval liqueur), and a few other little things.

Cleaning and cataloguing the collection was a very enjoyable experience. I love arranging and describing archival material. I also used CALM, an archival cataloguing software, for the first time, so I was able to learn an additional archival skill as well as consolidating my cataloguing abilities. I am also very grateful to my colleagues for answering all my ‘small questions’ that occurred to me as I was processing this collection!

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