Accuracy and utility have to be weighed in the adoption of conventions for transcribing, particularly in the case of spelling and punctuation. As the spelling in the documents is not consistent, it has been decided with the exception of proper names, to standardize spelling to modern spelling throughout. Archaic forms such as 'hath' and 'saith' and dialect words have generally been kept. Capital letters suffer from the same inconsistencies in the original sources, and we have confined the use of them to proper names of people and places. The saints and 'Jesus Christ' are therefore in lower case to separate them from the names of people in Earls Colne. Titles such as Mr, Rev, and Lord also are all in lower case to separate them from the name, viz mr Abbott, and rev Adams. As the punctuation in many of the documents is missing or inaccurate, rather than re-punctuate and hence possibly change the meaning, in most cases the commas and fullstops have been left out.
Due to their great age and careless storage in the past some of the documents are damaged in some way, either torn, rotted or blotched by damp, so that certain passages and words are unclear. In these cases comments about the state of the documents are given. If, however, only one word is unclear, and can only be guessed at, the symbol '#' directly after the word shows it to be questionable, such as Burton#. In some cases only one letter may be unclear. Taking the same name, if the third letter is unclear so that it could read Bufton, Burton, or Button the symbol '=' shows which letter is questionable, viz Bu=ton.
To save space some abbreviations have been used, but apart from our aversion to changing the data, it has been found that while typing it is quicker to type the long form than try to remember a long list of the short forms. So the shortened forms have been kept to the minimum and used for frequent words, where the meaning is clear. Widow for instance is sometimes shortened to wid, deceased to dec, yeoman to yeo etc. Short or rare forenames are written in full, but the common names like William and Richard are shortened to Wm and Rich - in fact this is no great change from the original where these forms are commonly used instead of the full name.
Numbers are used within the database to denote many things from dates to amounts of money and area. Conventions for using these have been developed, the most complicated of which are those for dates. In all cases the ecclesiastical year is converted to the civil year prior to entry, as two incompatible systems would have made dating impossibly complex for use with a computer.
Regnal years are entered in a modified form of the usual convention, that is to say with the year of the reign first, then the name of the monarch, and lastly the number of the monarch. So that the twenty sixth year of the reign of Elizabeth the first is written as 26Eliz1. When a full date is known it is written in figures with the day, month, and year delimited by a stop, e.g. 1.2.1634. If in the document only part of the date is given, for instance just the month and the year as in 'in the month of April in the year of our lord 1666', it is written .4.1666. If only the year is given it is written without the delimiter, for example 1666. If no day or month is given, the date is assumed to be 1.1. for computer listing purposes, although the actual date is shown in the record.
As the documents are not always clear, the same convention used for an illegible character is used for an illegible figure. So if a smudge is over the day it is written as =.4.1666. Not all dates have to be written in this form with figures, and some are partially or all in words. The words 'next' and 'last' are written in the year position after the final stop, and are used when they occur in the text e.g. the first of April last - 1.4.last. Movable feasts such as easter and whitsun are calculated prior to entry. However, certain feasts such as the quarter days are frequently used. The quarter days - xmas (Christmas), annun (the Annunciation) or ladyday (Lady Day), stjn (St John the Baptist), and mich (Michaelmas or St Michael the Archangel) - are written immediately before the the year, and are understood as 25.12., 25.3., 24.6., and 29.9. respectively. So, 'the feast of saint michael the archangel in the year 1600', is written as mich.1600. Other feast days used are martinmas or mart, lammas, and candlemas, understood as 11.11, 1.8. and 2.2..
Time is used with a year as the largest unit, and is used in situations such as age, length of time doing something etc. The qualifiers are given below.
|year, years, yr, or yrs||year|
|month, mont, mth, mths, mnth, or m||month|
|day or days||day|
All numbers other than dates, are written in full except when they can be used in mathematical calculations. In these cases a number is typed as a figure followed immediately by a qualifier. Figures without qualifiers are not used within the text. The amounts such as money, length weight etc. all have their own qualifiers.
In the case of money the qualifiers correspond to the coinage given in the text. Amounts are not converted prior to typing, so forty six shillings are written as shillings, and not as two pounds six shillings. Similarly neither are marks, angels and nobles converted to their shilling and pence equivalents. The qualifiers are presented below, with their rough equivalents in square brackets.
|li||pound||20s or 100p|
|mark||mark||13s4d or 66.5p|
|angel or ange||angel||6s8d or 33.5p|
|noble or nobl||noble||6s8d or 33.5p|
|s||shilling||12d or 5p|
|d||penny||2h or 4f or approx 0.5p|
|h||halfpenny||2f or approx 0.25p|
|f||farthing||0.25d or 0.5h or approx 0.25p|
For example six pounds seven shillings and eight pence halfpenny is written as 6li7s8d1h, with the qualifiers immediately following the figures and with no spaces in between. If spaces are included then the figures can be assumed to refer to separate amounts.
Length is complicated by having more than one name in the text for one measurement. Rod was chosen to represent rods, poles and perches, as perches had been used as a measurement for area. Rod is written in full to separate it from rood which is written as 'r'. The qualifiers are shown below.
|rod, pole, perch||rod or rods||5yds18in or 5 metres|
|fm||fathom||6ft or 1.8 metres|
|yard, yd, y, or yrd||yard||3ft or 0.9 metres|
|foot, feet or ft||foot||12in or 0.3 metre|
|in, i||inches||0.025 metres|
'One rod one foot' is written as 1rod1ft, and 'one fathom six inches' as 1fm6in.
The measurement of area is complicated by some units varying over time. Also the qualifiers do not necessarily follow the text: where a measurement is given as being something and a half the 'half' is converted prior to typing. The area qualifiers presented below.
|sqyd 9sqft||square yard||0.8 square metre|
|sqf or sqft||square foot||144sqin or 0.09 square metres|
|sqin or sqi||square inch|
|virgate or virg||virgate||usually 30a or 12 hectares|
|acre or a||acre||4roods or 0.4 hectare|
|rood or r||rood||40 perches or 0.1 hectare|
'An acre and a half' (or one acre two roods), is therefore written as 1a2r.
Dry volume has only two qualifiers, bushel and strike.
|bushel or bush||bushel||8gall or 36 litres|
|strike or stri||strike||8gall or 36 litres|
Hence 'six bushels' is written as 6bush and 'two strikes' as 2stri.
Liquid volume is very rarely used in the text, but it appears in some accounts when the smallest amount mentioned is a pint. The qualifiers are as follows.
|gallon or gall||gallon||8pints or 4.5 litre|
|pint or pt||pint||0.56 litre|
For example 'one gallon six pints' is written as 1gall6pt.
The qualifiers used with weight are quite straightforward, except that bushels, which are used as both measurements of weight and dry volume, have been included only in dry measurement. So that where a mixture of bushels and stones is given they cannot be written as one measurement. The weight qualifiers are shown below.
|cwt||hundred weight||112lb or 50 kilograms|
|stone or ston||stone||14lb or 6 kilograms|
|lb||pound||16oz or 0.45 kilograms|
'Five pounds six ounces' is therefore written in the usual way as 5lb6oz, and six hundred weight as 6cwt.
A further abbreviation refers to units of hearth tax. The qualifier used is given below.
|ht||unit of hearth tax|
Hence having one hearth, and so being liable for that amount of tax, is written as 1ht.
Variations in some of the qualifiers reflect the fact that the material has been prepared over a number of years.