One of the things archivists get exercised about is the importance of ‘original order’. This is the idea that the arrangement of records by their creator has significance to our understanding of the records themselves. Wherever possible, archivists will try to determine the original order of materials in their care.

A recent accession (2015-55) presented something of a puzzle in this respect. It is a scrapbook from the First World War, of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia which had been pasted into a printed book. The binding of the book had partially come apart and the early pages of the scrapbook had been jumbled into no particular order, with clippings dated 1917 mixed with those from 1916.

Scrapbook front cover

Scrapbook front cover

The book which the compiler had used for the scrapbook was Richardson’s New Method for the Piano-Forte, originally published in 1859 by Nathan Richardson.

107 Station Street, Belleville today

107 Station Street, Belleville today

Examination of the scrapbook revealed that its owner was Alice Deacon, born in Belleville on September 27th, 1899 to Daniel Deacon and his wife Catherine (née Dugan). During the First World War, the Deacons were living at 107 Station Street, Belleville. They were Roman Catholics and Alice was probably a student at St. Michael’s Academy on Church Street, Belleville, which opened in 1907.

Alice had three older brothers: James, Frederick and Francis (Frank). Frank joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 23rd, 1916 in Belleville and it may have been this event which triggered Alice’s interest in the war. Frank’s service record is available from Library and Archives Canada.

The scrapbook mainly comprises cuttings from The Intelligencer during the war, where Alice carefully recorded references to Belleville boys overseas, sometimes annotating the clippings with her own observations about whether a man returned to the front, or which school he had attended.

Alice Deacon's scrapbook p.16

Alice Deacon’s scrapbook, p.16

Alongside the newspaper extracts are other, more personal items, such as postcards, theatre programmes, calling cards, invitations and even ticket stubs. This page illustrates some of the variety:

Alice Deacon's scrapbook, p.38

Alice Deacon’s scrapbook, p.38

Here we find an invitation, two pressed flowers “from ruins of a French village, May 1917” and a picture labelled “off a box of chocolates Jim gave me for my birthday, 1916”.

In between Alice’s pastings, we can see some of the text of Nathan Richardson’s book. This was the key to re-creating Alice’s original order. Some of the pages still had visible page numbers, although most did not, but the majority had at least some words and phrases. The book has been digitized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is available online through the Internet Archive. This digital copy has proved extremely useful in discovering the original order of the scrapbook. Using the Internet Archives’ searching facility, we were able to locate the identifiable words and match them to the page numbers of the original book. Once all the pages were identified, it was a simple matter to put them into the order they would have been in when the book was intact.

Richardson's new method for the piano-forte on the Internet Archive

Richardson’s new method for the piano-forte on the Internet Archive

Alice’s brother Frank came home safely from the war and was demobilized on May 23rd, 1919. Alice worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper in Belleville until 1929, when she married Leo Houlihan in St. Michael’s Church. She then left Belleville to live with Leo in Lindsay, Ontario. She died in 1955 and was buried in the Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic cemetery in Sarnia, Ontario.

Her scrapbook arrived back in Belleville by mail, sixty years after Alice’s death. We are grateful to the anonymous donor for sharing with us this glimpse into life in the city during the First World War, through the eyes of a teenage girl.