UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The registration of a deed of land in Ontario : a study in special diplomatics Davidson, Steven


The principles of diplomatics and the methodology of diplomatic analysis have long been recognized in Europe as important elements of archival education. However, North American archivists have tended to view the diplomatic discipline as archaic and better suited to its traditional use in the study of medieval European documents than to the study of the records of modern North American administrations. Objections to the application of diplomatics to modern documents have focused on two points: first, that diplomatics is of limited practical value beyond the demonstration of authenticity, which is the purpose for which it was first developed; and secondly, that the nature of modern documents is fundamentally different from the nature of medieval documents and diplomatics is therefore not relevant to the study of modern documents. This thesis serves as a pilot study in the application of diplomatics in a modern administrative context, and its purpose is to challenge both these objections. The framework for this thesis was determined by a consideration of the unique characteristics of medieval and modern documents as tools of administrative activity. Given that a single medieval document typically embodies an entire transaction, while most modern documents embody only a fragment of a transaction, it was apparent that a diplomatic analysis of a single modern document would be less conclusive than a similar analysis of a single medieval document. For a diplomatic analysis of a single modern document to be meaningful, therefore, the focus of the study must shift from the single document to the entire documentary residue of the transaction in which the document participated. The methodology of the diplomatic analysis remains unchanged, in that it still begins with an analysis of a single document, but the overall focus of enquiry broadens to comprise a sequence of diplomatic analyses of all the documents which participated in the transaction. The thesis focuses on two transactions involving the registration of a deed of land under the Ontario land registry system, one taking place in 1822 and the other in 1873. In order to identify all the documents which participated in these transactions, it was first necessary to examine the legal requirements for registration as revealed in the relevant legislation. After the activities required to be undertaken to complete the registration transaction were identified, these were then arranged into a logical sequence comprising a single coherent procedure. In this manner, a separate procedural outline was constructed for each period in the registry system's early development, and the documents which participated in each respective registration transaction were identified according to the procedure governing the transaction at that time. On the basis of the two procedural outlines, separate diplomatic studies were undertaken of the documents participating in each respective transaction. These studies consist of a sequence of diplomatic analyses of all the documents which participated in each transaction. The studies reveal the changing nature of both the documents and the procedure, and this information is expressed in a consistent and standardized manner according to the terminology of diplomatics. The importance of this information for the arrangement, description and appraisal of these documents confirms the relevance of the diplomatic analyses to the study of modern documents. In conclusion, the principles of diplomatics are very much relevant to an understanding of modern documents. The results of the two diplomatic studies confirm that the methodology of diplomatics can successfully be applied to a modern administrative context and can be used by archivists in varying degrees of completeness and formality in order to uncover information critical to the arrangement, description and appraisal of modern documents. In revealing, through an analysis of a document's forms, the nature of the document in terms of its procedural context and the circumstances of its creation, diplomatics has the capacity to help facilitate the management of modern North American archives.

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