This summer, I worked as a Project Archivist for The Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives. As part of my employment, I was responsible for processing the Mark Young Stark family fonds. Rev. Mark Young Stark served as the Presbyterian Minister in Ancaster, Ontario from 1833-1854 and in Dundas, Ontario from 1833 until his retirement in 1863. This was my first experience processing a collection so it was a great learning experience. In order to create a finding aid for the fonds, I had to read majority of the documents to determine basic information, such as the subject matter, who wrote the document, and who the document was addressed to. Reading old handwriting presented many challenges. The fonds includes a large collection of letters, which had abbreviations of words and names that are no longer common. Also, a large number of the letters had writing overlapping in multiple directions or small writing around the edges of the pages. This was commonly done at the time to save paper. I often used a magnifying glass to try to determine the content of the letters.
The fonds primarily contains family correspondence received by Mark Young Stark, and by his daughter, Mary Ann. There is also a large number of letters written by Mark Young Stark, some of which was written while he was studying and travelling in Europe as a young man. The letters date from ca. 1723 to 1917 and are primarily from family and friends. The fonds also includes journals, notebooks, documents, essays, and newspaper clippings largely related to Mark Young Stark’s family and Presbyterianism in Canada. The journals are written by Mark Young Stark from 1829-1831, his step-mother Mary Bannatyne Stark from 1824, and his daughter Mary Ann Stark from 1860-1891. There is a published book of sermons written by Mark Young Stark, two scrapbooks comprised of postcards, pictures, and picture cut-outs, and some original pencil sketches, ink drawings, and small paintings. Once the fonds was processed, I created an exhibit to display a selection of the archival materials.
For anyone who is interested in transcribing or reading historic documents, there are several resources on old handwriting such as the primary source guide from Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries and the Palaeography tutorial from The National Archives UK .