Ledgers are the main books of account for a business. They record the financial income and outgoings of an entity and typically follow a ‘T’ Account system whereby each transaction is recorded twice, once as debit and once as credit, split across two columns, on the left and right respectively. This system of input is referred to as ‘Double Entry Bookkeeping’.
There are a variety of different ledgers. Some smaller companies may only keep one ‘General Ledger’ which records all accounts. For bigger concerns there may be a ‘Personal Ledger’ that deals with transactions with individuals, and a ‘Private Ledger’ which, as the name suggests is considered by the owners to be of a confidential nature. The division is dependent on the particular business however. The two examples of ledgers listed here are from the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company (SITC from here on) and the Swansea and Mumbles Railway Company (above).
An impersonal ledger, sometimes identified as a nominal ledger, is a book devoted to the revenue and expense items of a business or entity. Ledgers are almost universally based upon the typical organisational structure of a T Account. This system basically organises income, or debit entries, onto the left hand side and outgoings, or credit entries, into the right hand side. An impersonal ledger may include the revenue generated from advertising or passengers,whilst listing overheads such as wages and salaries amongst the expenses.
There will always be limitations on the information you can take from these sources. Analysing these figures in depth may require further skills and knowledge relating to business archives and accountancy practice and familiarity with the company’s own idiosyncrasies. Through a little hard work and a some basic knowledge about the document in hand however any challenges can be easily overcome!
For a closer look at an authentic and annotated nineteenth century ‘Impersonal Ledger’, from the Swasnea and Mumbles Railway Company, and for information on how to understand it click on the links below and download the pdf’s.
To look at the real thing quote the catalogue refernce LAC/85/D33 at the Richard Burton Archive. See the ‘Your Turn’ page for more information.