How business was recorded into ledgers

We have different kinds of business records from which we can decipher different kinds of stories. Over the decades the Campbell's purchased many bound "ledgers" into which they could record their business transactions, but there were different ways in which these could be organized. We have examples of "daybooks" and "account books" (both of which recorded the same transactions in different ways) as well as notebooks and ledgers summarizing their various businesses. As a result, we have different kinds of business records from which we can tell different stories, if we learn to “hear” what they are saying. We will look at five examples:

Ledger “A” : 1853-1861 We think this ledger records the very earliest transactions, and lists each transaction as they happened, indicating whether it represents a “debit” [the customer owes CCF for this item] or as “credit” [CCF owes someone else]. Ledgers organized in this way were usually called a “Day Book” or “Journal” and provided a running account of what took place. Selling products, making repairs, providing a service were each recorded in the amount of “debt” someone owed CCF. It was recorded that way, because only rarely did anyone actually pay, at the time, for whatever they purchased (as we do, today). Also recorded, at whatever point each occurred, are the “credits” someone has gained by paying some amount down, or the amount of credit given for a bushel of potatoes the customer provided instead of cash, the hours or days of labour someone provided, or the materials the Factory is purchasing from someone else. Boards and shingles to repair the building, iron for the blacksmith, renting someone else’s horses to mount a funeral, are all recorded as “credits.” Over time, each customer builds up both debits and credits, and to keep track of where each one stands, these transactions are all (laboriously!) transcribed into a separate book: a ledger organized to record the accumulative “account” for each separate customer – an account book.

Ledger “C”: 1886-1920 This book presents the “accounts” as they accumulated over more than 30 years, one account for each customer. Accounts were added to this ledger as new customers came along, so they are not listed alphabetically. A slip-in index had to be provided, just to find where a customer’s account was located in over 800 pages!

The main use of these accounts was to match accumulated debits against accumulated credits, and see where things stood. A business might hope that customers would “settled up their accounts” from time to time, but we can see that some of these accounts were carried along for years and years.

(We assume there was an “account book” into which were transferred the journal entries from “A”, but it has not been found. Similarly, we assume there was a daybook or journal from which the accounts were recorded in “C”, but that ledger is also lost. And we are missing completely, records from 1862-1885.)

Owner’s Notebooks: 1897-1929 For a number of years overlapping ledger “C” the owner kept a small “notebook” with him. In it he kept a tally of just how many vehicles had been sold (to whom and for how much), how many vehicles on runners was tallied separately, and a third list is of customers for whom substantial repairs were made on their carriage (or wagon, or sleigh) and had been re-painted. Finally there were running lists of those for whom they had provided a funeral. Contained in a stack of about 8 notebooks (each bound in red leather) are these annual summaries covering more than 30 years.  These may be unique in all of Canada.

Last Ledgers: 1940s-1951 We also have a number of ledgers and daybooks from the last decades of the CCF business, and we will provide examples from two of these. One of these is organized as a “daybook” with each item added as it came along. It shows the kind of sales and repairs still being carried out into the mid-1940s. The very last ledger is also organized chronologically, but at this point business was so slow there seems to have been no effort to transcribe these records into a separate “account book”, and the ledger is used to record transactions at the carriage factory and also at the Campbell’s farm and other business affairs. This ledger records the very last transaction associated with the carriage factory in March of 1951.
Paul Bogaard
Adèle Hempel, Michael Doan
19-20th Century
© 2007, Tantramar Heritage Trust. All Rights Reserved.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans