Database Methodology:

Information about People


The goal of the data on people is several-fold. It offers the opportunity to track the types of people and relationships between people involved in cases. Providing such details also helps to prevent duplicate counting. By logging the names of the defendants, accusers, and others involved in a case, it becomes possible to check whether a case has already been entered into SCGV.[1] The People table lists the CaseID for the relevant legal case, the person’s name (and alternative names), gender, age, occupation, residence, and a unique primary key identifier (PersonID).

Part of the role of a database is to provide data in a standardized form. This task is particularly difficult with early modern names due to the inconsistencies of seventeenth-century court records, which include non-standardized spelling, poor handwriting, faded ink, and damaged documents. SCGV makes some attempt to standardize names in the “Name” field. For example, between the different court records of s single case, they might list the same individual as “Joan,” “Johan,” “Joann,” “Joanne,” or “Jone.” In this case, the “Name” field in SCGV always uses “Joan” in the name field.[2] The “Alternative Name” field lists the other ways the name was spelled in the documents, attempts to anticipate ways it might be spelled in future documents, and attempts to account for illegibility. For example, if a document listed “Jone Smith,” the “Name” field would be populated with “Joan Smith” and the “Alternative Name” field would contain “Jone Smith” to record how the document listed her name. SCGV would also record “Johan Smith” in the “Alternative Name” field since it is possible that a future document might refer to her as “Johan.” The “Alternative Name field could also record other potential names when a document was illegible. For example, the “Name” field for PersonID #167 is listed as “John Gattleing.” However, the “Alternative Name” field lists several other potential readings including “John Cattleing,” “John Gattleing,” and “John Oatleing.”

In addition to conventions on entering name data, certain basic rules of querying the People table help to ensure more accurate results. First, the user should always query both the “Name” and “Alternative Name” field to ensure that they are getting the most complete results. Second, the user should query using the shortest querying term possible. For example, a user looking for “Alice Pearse” should search for “Alice P,” which would bring up entries for “Alice Peirce,” “Alice Pearce,” and “Alice Peace,” as well as “Alice Pearse.” Third, adding additional information to the query can help. For example, if looking for a person from Wiltshire, the user can add a condition to return only people whose cases are in records from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. To go back to the example of Alice Pearse, querying SCGV for “Alice P” brings up eleven results. However, after adding the condition that the records must be from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, these eleven results narrow to only two. Another way of adding information is to check for two different people from the same case and trying to find matching CaseIDs. The two CaseIDs that are returned from a search of “Alice P” in the Wiltshire records are C1668 and C1755. In Alice Pearse’s Wiltshire bastardy case, “William Bennett” was named as the father. Searching for a “William B” in Wiltshire records returns ten CaseIDs, including C1755 but not C1668. These are just a few examples to illustrate how querying people works in SCGV.[3]

Age and Occupation are two fields that also present some complexities. Age is often blank because it was rarely listed. The most common “Age” listed in SCGV is “infant” because it is used for the illegitimate children in bastardy cases. As for occupations, court records usually list men’s occupations, while women are most often described by their marital status.[4] Therefore, the “Occupation” field for women in SCGV contains descriptors such as “widow,” “spinster,” “singlewoman,” or “wife,” based on how they are described in the court records.[5]

The Relationships table links together two different PersonIDs using a relationship. For example, if John and Mary Smith are married, the Relationships table will list Mary as the “Wife Of” John and John as the “Husband Of” Mary. These relationships allow the database to provide answers to certain types of queries. For example, in order to find out how many bastardy cases occurred between a master and servant, the user would need to check the Legal Cases table for bastardy cases and the Relationships table to determine if there were master/servant relationships. Using just a few lines of code, SCGV is equipped to carry out these kinds of queries.[6]


[1] Certain names are common and spelling was not standardized in the seventeenth century and thus this involves some educated guesswork. For example, there are 9 men named “John Smith” in the database. Using the occupation and the residence of the individual, as well as the names of others involved in each case, it was usually possible to determine if it was the same incident or not. This obviously contains some amount of guesswork as individuals could move or change occupations. What was slightly more difficult was determining if two different cases (known to be different by different crimes, or involve different secondary characters) contained an individual with the same name from the same place, since it was possible the same person could be involved in two different crimes.

[2] Other standardized names include Humfrey (not Humphrey), Steven (not Stephen), Elizabeth (not Elizabeth), Anne (not An, or Anna), and Katherine (not Catherine). In addition to alternate spellings, this field also attempts to accommodate alternative names such as maiden names and aliases.

[3] There are a multitude of ways to clarify queries including specifying the type of crime (i.e. searching all ‘Alice P’s involved in bastardy cases).

[4] The table records soldiers separately from other occupations because men are sometimes described with an occupation but having taken up arms to be a soldier for King or Parliament during the civil wars.

[5] In cases where a woman was listed as a widow, but also as the wife of a man who was dead, the “Occupation” lists “widow” and the relationship to the husband would be noted in the Relationships table. For example, “Joan Smith, widow, alias Joan Smith, wife of John Smith” would be listed with an “Occupation” of “widow” and there would be two entries in the Relationships table listing Joan Smith as the “Wife Of” John Smith and John Smith as the “Husband Of” Joan Smith.

[6] It is important to note that neither the People table nor the Relationships table existed at the beginning of the documentation stage. These tables were created midway through record processing. Names and genders are consistent across the totality of the tables, but only records from Norfolk and Wiltshire have occupations and places of residence entered consistently. Though the Relationships table was created at the same point, I was able to extrapolate the necessary information to consistently fill out the table using logical functions and simple Python code.