Parsons Family Papers

Scope and Content

Papers, 1902-1998, of the Parsons family, comprising three volumes of typescript copies of letters (1902-1926) written by the Rev and Mrs Parsons from Yunnan, China, the subjects including family matters and mission activities, descriptions of local people and culture, and references to the Miao language; unpublished Hua Miao-English dictionary and phrase book written by P Kenneth and R Keith Parsons, 1998; publications using 'Reformed' Pollard script, 1951-1994, including text books and school primer (some photocopies), collected by them.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Reverend Harry Parsons was born on 26 November 1878 in Barnstable and entered the Ministry of the Bible Christian Church in 1899. He served in China from 1902 to 1926. He married Edith Bryant on 24 April 1906 in Yunnanfu. In 1907 the Bible Christian Church united with other sections of Methodism to form the United Methodist Church. He died on 8 July 1952.

Edith Annie Kate Bryant was born on 13 December 1876 near Tiverton. She and Harry Parsons were engaged in 1899 and the Bible Christian Church subsequently accepted her as a lay missionary. She sailed for China in 1904. The Parsons had three children, Elsie, born in Chaotung [Zhaotong] in 1910 and the twins, (Richard) Keith and (Philip) Kenneth, born in Chaotung [Zhaotong] on 17 September 1916.

Both Philip Kenneth Parsons and Richard Keith Parsons became ordained ministers of the Methodist Church, who served at home and overseas. Philip Kenneth served in the Hupeh Central China District, 1940-1946, South West China District, 1946-1950, and later in Kenya, 1953-1965. Richard Keith served in Hupeh District, China, 1942-1950, and later as Educational Secretary, United Christian Council, Sierra Leone District, 1953-1958.

From c1904, the Reverend and Mrs Parsons and Reverend Samuel Pollard (also a missionary in Yunnan with the United Methodist Church) went to live among the Hua Miao tribe at Shimenkan, 25 miles east of Chaotung [Zhaotong]. They learnt the Hua Miao language and used a simple phonetic script to reduce it to writing. Philip Kenneth and Richard Keith Parsons continued this work with the Hua Miao language. In 1949, they were approached by Mr Wang Ming-ji regarding the possibility of their compiling a Hua Miao-English Dictionary. Wang Ming-ji had already done a considerable amount of work in grouping Miao words written in the Pollard script, and the Parsons translated and annotated these words and phrases.


The letters are arranged in chronological order within the volumes. The dictionary is written in 26 sections, with an introduction.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated in May and November 1998.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Related Material

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society which includes correspondence for the Hupeh District, China (MMS/China/Correspondence/Hupeh/FBN 9 & Boxes 1294-1295) and the South West China District (MMS/China/Correspondence/S W China/Box 1292) for the period Keith and Kenneth Parsons served there. Furthermore, the synod minutes for both the Hupeh District and South West China District will record the work the brothers, and their colleagues, were involved with (MMS/China/Synod Minutes/FBN 6 & Boxes 1287 & 1288).

Minutes are extant for the Bible Christian Missionary Society for 1861-1873, 1882-1891 and 1903-1909 (MMS/Home/Minutes/Bible Christian/FBN 8) and for the United Methodist Missionary Society there are the minutes of the Foreign Missions Committee, 1908-1933 (MMS/Home/Minutes/ UMMS/FBN 6), and a South West China Minute Book, 1905-1932 .

Within the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) are the papers of Samuel Pollard (MMS/Special Series/Biographical/China/FBN 29-30) who worked amongst the Miao and the papers of Clement Noble Mylne who worked amongst the Nosu (MMS/Special Series/Biographical/China/Box 643A). In addition, further Pollard papers are available (MS 380690) as well as the research papers of Frederick Howard Taylor on the tribes of south-west China, including notes on the life of Samuel Pollard (CIM/PP Box 11 File 124).

Linguistic notes and sources can be found on the online Hua Miao Archive (