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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cause papers 1300-1858: disputes in the north of England

Cause papers in the diocesan courts in the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858 is a searchable catalogue of more than five centuries' worth of papers relating to cases in the church courts. The Advanced Search allows you to search by name, place, type of case, occupation and more. The cases dealt with in the church courts included matrimonial and testamentary disputes, defamation and matters of moral conduct. They also heard cases regarding church affairs such as tithes, church rights and benefices.

York Minster
The database includes the names of everyone involved in each case, witnesses, proctors (ecclesiastical lawyers) as well as the parties in dispute, and even the names of the testators in disputed will cases. Occupation or status is also given, and in the case of witnesses, their ages too. Sometimes there is a brief abstract of the case, or, even better, you can view and download scanned images of the papers themselves. If there are no images to download, you can order copies from the Borthwick Institute, where the records are held. you are also encouraged to contribute to this ongoing project by adding abstracts of the cases or by editing existing ones.

These records are a terrific source for family and local historians. not only are they full of names, they also give a glimpse into the daily lives of people who may be otherwise unrecorded beyond their baptisms, marriages and burials. Some of the cases involve large numbers of people, such as the 1753 case involving brawling in church at Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire; Edward Grave, the churchwarden, brought the case against John Atkinson, a fellmonger, and no less than 17 witnesses were called. There are 43 pages of proceedings to download and read, which are fortunately very legible - some of the earlier ones present more of a challenge, but there is plenty of help to be had, such as The National Archives resources for Reading old documents.

All the places referred to in the cases are indexed, and they extend well beyond area over which the diocesan courts of the Archbishopric of York had jurisdiction. For example, the case of Edward Bailey, colonel in the West Middlesex Militia in 1812, includes many references to addresses in London. All places referred to in the cases are indexed, and they can be very detailed indeed, right down to street addresses in towns and field names in the countryside.

This is a site that is well worth exploring, especially if your ancestral interests lie in England's northern counties. Even if there are no cases of specific interest, it gives you an indication of just how detailed and interesting court records can be. They are largely unexplored because there are not many name indexes, without which you would have no inkling that an ancestor was ever involved in a court case.

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