Digital church records offer window into past
Fascinating records from the Church Courts of York are now available on-line at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, allowing historians new insights into a huge variety of topics over many centuries.
From arguments about church taxes on liquorice, roses and pigeon dung, to families disputing wills and inheritance, the records paint a vivid picture of the social, economic, political, religious and emotional world of people living in a period from the 14th to 19th centuries.
Alastair Dunning, programme manager at JISC, said: "Digitisation of this resource opens up the records to a far greater range of research and teaching uses. To date use has been limited by the physical format and the conservation needs of the documents. These new digital images can be shuffled around, enlarged, re-ordered and compared in ways that are not possible with the physical items themselves."
Digitisation of the York Cause Papers, which record the proceedings of the ecclesiastical courts of York from 1300 to 1858, has been funded through a grant from JISC. The development means the papers are set to become one of the most widely-used historical records in the UK.
Borthwick Institute Keeper of Archives Chris Webb said: "Until 1858 the church courts, under the authority of bishops, had jurisdiction over a wide variety of crimes which we would now consider secular and the business of the state.
"They oversaw cases concerning marriage and separation, and disputes over wills and inheritance. They also dealt with cases involving personal reputation and defamation, the maintenance of the Church, the orthodoxy of its services, and the regulation of the moral and professional conduct of the clergy, schoolmasters, physicians and midwives.
"The Church of England was supported by a system of taxation known as tithes and the records also show exactly how this taxation was calculated and how people tried to evade it."
Professor Mark Ormrod, from the University’s Department of History, added: "The digitisation of the Cause Papers brings to completion a comprehensive project designed specifically to allow the widest possible public access to this vitally important historical resource.
"The resource is of tremendous importance to specialists in social, economic, religious and legal history and in the history of gender, sexuality, marriage and domesticity, as well as to a wide range of users with interests in family and local history. The York Cause Papers are now set to become one of the most widely-used historical resources in the United Kingdom."
The digitisation project adds to original work funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation which provided an on-line catalogue. A range of detailed searches are now available which are suitable for building up a list of sources for thematic research and enable searches by personal name and place, adding to the resources available to family and local historians.
The Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of Sheffield provided crucial technical support in enabling this project to link the images of the York Cause Papers with the Borthwick’s searchable database of the Cause Papers. The searchable database had been created by the Borthwick and the HRI during a previous project, funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation.
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