Thursday 5 October 2017

Medieval Deeds Project

Searching the word ‘deed’ on our online catalogue brings up over 1500 results. Each of these results could relate to a single item or to an entire collection of numerous boxes.

Due to the vast amount of deeds we have, we decided to make them more readily accessible to researchers. The plan was to digitise the deeds and improve the description of them, with the resulting output then added to our catalogue. Catalogue searches would be more effective and show up more detailed results. The catalogue could direct users to exactly the right deed and also provide a digital image of it- perfect for people who can’t make it into the search room. Having the deeds digitised also reduces the need to produce the original, and reduces the handling of these items when in a number of cases a digital surrogate is enough.

The plan was to digitise the deeds and improve the description of them.

The decision was taken to start the process with our Medieval Deeds. These are mostly written in Latin, so extracting key pieces of information from them would be of most benefit to the average user with little to no knowledge of the language. 

DCH_J75_2 one of our first completed deeds.

Due to the specialist knowledge needed to read and understand Latin and the writing style (palaeography) we decided to seek out people with this skill. To enable as broad an array of people as possible to help us with this, we decided to use a digital platform, from which we created a digital collaboration project. A fully digital project allows people to volunteer from their own home and in their own time.

After some research, we chose Trello to build our project on. Trello is a free online tool designed to assist collaborative working; assigning members of the team different tasks which can be seen by all. It allows multiple people to log in simultaneously from wherever they are. The layout is similar to a Kanban board, where you move items to the right as they progress through the workflow (far left is items pending, far right is items completed). This fit in well with our plan for the project.

Current screenshot from the project.

If you want to see this platform in action please watch our YouTube video. We are still relatively early on in this process and looking for more volunteers to help to push it forward.

The particular deeds in this project are characterised by the fact that they are made of parchment (stretched and scraped animal skins) and display a variety of seals and seal attaching techniques. They are primarily written in iron gall ink. The longevity of parchment documents means that they survive today in remarkable condition however extra care needs to be taken with the sometimes brittle and fragmented wax seals.

Close-up of one of the seals from the DCH Collection.

The Medieval Deeds digitised for this project are taken from our DCH collection, “Title deeds and leases, Cheshire and elsewhere, 12th century - c1900”, specifically DCH/J- Deeds relating to various Townships. 

Before digitising, any folded deeds were flattened and restored where necessary by our in-house conservation department. We have now digitised around 500 of the Medieval Deeds in our collection.

Currently, all these deed images are uploaded to Trello and our volunteers can choose from them and allocate one to themselves. The volunteer then translates the key sections of the deed and moves it onto the next stage. We don’t ask for a full transcription- just for essential information to be extracted and translated into English. This mainly consists of names, dates and locations but also costs involved and relationships between named people.

At this point, a different volunteer takes over and quality checks the description and adds their comments if required. The information is then checked a further time before being passed over to our in-house Latin specialist for final verification. When a batch of deeds has been completed, we will upload the images and results of the project onto our catalogue. This will be done intermittently until all deeds are finalised.

If you have a thorough understanding of Latin and feel that you could help us, please get in touch for more information at

All you require is an email address; computer and internet access to get started. Some of our volunteers even visit their local library to get internet access and assist us! All work is undertaken at a time and place convenient to you. There is no minimum number of hours required to help out.

In time, this will make the whole of DCH/J easier to search and increase the value and knowledge which can be gained from these manuscripts.

Want to know more about this project? See more:

On our blog:
Deeds Indeed

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