Cause papers relating to disputes over matrimony, defamation, tithes, probate, breach of faith by the clergy, and church rights heard between 1300 and 1858 in the Church Courts of the diocese of York
The records of the church courts in the diocese of York, housed in the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, are the most extensive records of their type in the United Kingdom, dating from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries and covering Yorkshire and beyond. They include cause papers for over 13,000 individual cases as well as a wealth of supporting material. Although their importance for social, economic, ecclesiastical and legal history has long been recognised, many of these papers were accessible only through manual indexes, compiled in the 1940s, which provide limited information about the records. As a result much of the information in the documents was locked away, inaccessible to the research community.
The Cause Papers project, which began in 2007, aims to provide access to the extensive collection of York cause papers – records of the individual cases of the church courts held at York – held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, through a new, on-line catalogue.
This resource is of particular relevance for social, ecclesiastical, local and family historians and also for historical geography and the study of place names. The importance of the material for social, economic, ecclesiastical and legal history is well-established, and the papers also contain extremely rich personal and place name data.
The catalogue contains approximately 500 individual cases for the period to 1500. The database can be searched for information about dates, type of case and documents, names of participants and locations. Registered users may add abstracts for cases. There is also extensive background material on the church courts and cause papers.
At present the project does not offer access to document images for the cases before 1500, though copies of particular documents may be ordered directly from the relevant catalogue description.
A particular strength of the project is the care taken to ensure that all spelling variants for surnames and place names are searchable under standard forms, while the database also provides the original spellings.
Longley, Katharine M. Ecclesiastical cause papers at York: dean and chapter's court 1350-1843. York: Borthwick Texts & Calendars, 1980.
Hoskin, Philippa et al. 'The court records of the Diocese of York 1300-1858: an underused resource'. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 83 (2011). 148-163.
Goldberg, P. J. P. 'Fiction in the archives: the York cause papers as a source for later medieval social history'. Continuity and Change, 12 (1997). 425-45.
Data-entry utilised a customised XML schema. The schema - designed explicitly for the project - provided a controlled vocabulary to express each cause from the archive. This included detailed provision for individuals represented in the cause papers and for handling variant names. The schema also provided for an exceptionally high level of detail on locations associated with a particular cause or person.
The XML document was visualised using an XML editing tool called XMLmind. Each validated document (or form) was ingested into a relational database which formed the repository which is utilised by the publicly accessible website built in the final phase of the project.
The Cause Papers was a collaborative project between the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York and the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield. Funding was provided by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. The Principal Investigator was Dr Philippa Hoskin and the Technical Officers were Katherine Rogers and Ed Mackenzie. The Cause papers was published by HRI Online Publications.