Thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have been able to set up a new project, which aims to use crowdsourcing to transcribe the documents held at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives. These records have been under the administration of the Norfolk Record Office since 1974, when the King’s Lynn Borough Council agreed to become part of the county’s record service, but with the records remaining in the King’s Lynn Town Hall. The Norfolk Record Office has since worked with the borough to jointly care for the records. In 2016, the Town Hall was refurbished, with a new strongroom created to house the documents, and the public searchroom refurbished to be more comfortable for visitors. The new Stories of Lynn museum was also opened. More information about the King’s Lynn Borough Archives can be found in an earlier blog here.
The initial project aims to transcribe a section of the Hall Books, which contain the minutes of meetings of the historic Town Council – the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses. These include references to local issues, such as annual elections, the admission of freemen, business regulations, and orders relating to trade, public health, and amenities, as well as mentioning matters of national importance. The Borough Archives hold Hall Books dating from 1372 to 1902, under the reference KL/C 7. The plan is to focus on those dating from 1611 to 1822 (KL/C 7/9-15), as two separate projects – Georgian Lynn, followed by Civil War Lynn. The inhabitants of King’s Lynn during the Georgian period witnessed events such as the Napoleonic Wars, the American War of Independence, the passing of the Corn Laws, and the draining of the Fens, whilst those who lived during the Civil War saw the borough both fortified and besieged.
It is currently necessary to visit the King’s Lynn Borough Archives in order to view these documents. This project intends to make the contents of the Hall Books more accessible to researchers, with the ultimate aim being a catalogue which links to digital images of the books, accompanied by a relevant transcription. We are, therefore, also asking transcribers to tag both names and places that they come across, so that researchers in the future are able to find what they are looking for more easily. Already, there has been mention of street names and places within King’s Lynn itself – St Ann’s Fort and the Gaywood Road Almshouses – as well as elsewhere in the country, such as Great Yarmouth, Wisbech, and Cambridge. However, there have also been references to places and events much further afield, including great European battles at Barcelona, and English colonies in America. Similarly, the books contain references to local events, such as the sending for of the famous witch-hunter, Matthew Hopkins, and the fortification of the borough during the Civil War, as well as national events, such as victories during the War of the Spanish Succession, and the proclamation of George I as king.
Those interested in volunteering can visit the transcription website here, as part of the Zooniverse, which plays host to several crowdsourcing projects. High-quality digital images of the documents have been uploaded to the site, where the user is provided with a random page of the project and given the chance to transcribe it as free text. There is a tutorial and field guide, which should be able to help with any queries, but failing that, there is the ‘talk’ option, which allows users to discuss images with each other, as well as with a project administrator. It is not necessary to create a Zooniverse account in order to transcribe, but doing so prevents users from seeing the same image twice, and opens up the ‘talk’ message boards. There are also plans to host various sessions at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives, if users live locally and wish to socialise with fellow transcribers.
Tips for transcribers:
- The tutorial should appear at the beginning of your first transcription session – this will explain how to set out your transcript. If you are unsure about anything during a later session, the tutorial can be viewed again by clicking the ‘tutorial’ button, above the text box.
- The Field Guide is a tab on the right-hand side at the page – this should be a fairly comprehensive guide to anything you might be stuck with. It lays out the format of the Hall Books, gives examples of common names (under ‘Members of the Congregation’), explains how to deal with tables, deletions, insertions, and notes added to the page, and contains guides to money, Roman numerals, dates, abbreviations and contractions of words, and a letter guide.
- The project may seem intimidating at first, but it will become much easier with practice – you will get used to the handwriting of various town clerks, become familiar with common King’s Lynn names, and have a better idea of how the Hall Books are laid out and the information they are likely to contain. If you are unfamiliar with secretary hand (the style of handwriting common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), we recommend that you begin with the Georgian Lynn workflow. Once you become used to this, the Civil War Lynn workflow will hopefully seem much easier.
- It is useful, whilst you transcribe, to have open a family history site (for example, FindMyPast or Ancestry) and the Oxford English Dictionary website. The former can help to confirm readings of names, whilst the latter is handy if you are unsure about any slightly archaic words.
- If you are having trouble with a particular image, simply refresh the webpage, and you should be provided with a brand new one.
- Don’t feel too much pressure to ‘get it right’ – each image is being transcribed three times in total, and the results combined and compared, so any mistakes that might be made will hopefully be caught by someone else.
If you have any queries about this project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chloe Phillips, Project Officer.