In 2013-4, over the course of a year long placement with the Borthwick, National Archives Trainees Francesca Taylor and Kerstin Doble have been working on a project to digitise, index and make available visitation records for the Archdeaconry of York between 1598 and 1690.
Visitation records are created when (in the case of the diocese of York) an archbishop or archdeacon (or one of their subordinates) conducted a 'visitation' of their diocese or archdeaconry parish by parish.
The process of holding sessions in visitation centres to which clergy, churchwardens and accused were summoned enabled the church to maintain order at a local level by keeping a check on the behaviour of the laity and clergy and the physical state of churches.
The visitation courts summoned people accused of immoral behaviour to attend in person and answer for their alleged offences.
If the case against them was proved, then they would be corrected - by excommunication, performance of penance (a humiliating public confession of their offence) or by the imposition of a fine.
Visitation records are the primary record we have of this process of correction.
The court books are a great resource for family historians as they contain key information such as people's Christian and surnames, status (marital or educational) and occupation as well as the parish in which they lived.
They are also an important resource for academic study, providing insights into the amount of control the church had over communities at this time and data on changing patterns of belief, particularly the survival of Catholic Recusants and the growth of Protestant Non-Conformity, the breakdown of marriages and sexual misconduct, disputes over tithes and taxes as well as over pews within churches, the decay and disrepair of church buildings and the use and abuse of churchyards.
Continuing on from the success of the Borthwick's previous digitisation project (the Cause Papers) the aim of the project is to digitise and index a select of records in order to create a searchable visitation database online.
By creating digital copies we will promote these documents to a wider audience and allow researchers to study the documents wherever they are based, without having to see the physical objects themselves.
This will also aid the long term preservation of these records for future generations.