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New Haven County Court Records: Blog

Meet Our Student Interns! Part 4

by Sarah Morin on 2024-04-09T08:30:00-04:00 in Archives, Connecticut, Courts: Connecticut Courts, History | 0 Comments

Once again, we are pleased to show our appreciation for the people who help make the Uncovering New Haven project possible and highlight the wonderful work of our most recent student intern.

See our previous profiles here:

Madelyn, Student Intern

Educational background:

  • College/University: Southern Connecticut State University
  • Degree/area of study: Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)
  • Graduation year: May 2024
  • Other degrees: BA, Environmental Studies
  • Career interests/goals: To work in archives or special collections.

What drew you to seek an internship with the Uncovering New Haven project and the Connecticut State Archives?

I was drawn to the Connecticut State Archives due to my use of their online services in the past. I browsed and utilized online records and images for projects that I completed when working on my undergraduate degree. At the time I was impressed by the sheer size of the collection and how many resources had been made freely available to the public. Assisting in providing the same access that I enjoyed for others is what drew me to seek this internship.

Describe a normal day in the archives for you:

When I get to the archives, I usually spend the first few minutes setting up my workstation for the day. This involves pulling up the court dockets for the year that I am processing and making sure that I have enough paper sheets for labeling. From there I begin processing the court records; this involves unfolding the documents, assessing for damage, reading them, and creating the appropriate labels. Cases that meet specific criteria or discuss certain topics will be tagged accordingly for further review and scanning. Towards the end of my day, I will take the stack of cases processed during the time and press them under a weight to further flatten them. I then like to make sure everything is back in its proper place and brush off the table to remove any residue left behind by the documents as they do crumble quite easily.

court documents, paper, post it notes, pencil, eraser, brick, and bone folding tool on table

A well-ordered workspace with everything in its proper place.

What is the most interesting, memorable, surprising, and/or bizarre thing(s) you’ve found while processing the court records?

One of the most interesting aspects of these cases was getting a glimpse into the treatment of smallpox during that time. Smallpox is a disease that has been relevant for a large part of recent human history. As it is now officially considered eradicated, it was interesting to get a brief look into the era of inoculation and the benefits and fears that were associated with it.

I will also say that I found the level of variation in description to be surprising. For example, two cases described a similarly violent crime, one of these cases went into almost forensic-level detail regarding the injuries and weapon used to create them while the other went into almost no detail beyond the basics. While there are formulas evident in the writs, it was memorable to see just how much the clerk’s writing style played a role in what information we are left with.

What aspects of working on this project did you enjoy the most, and why? What aspects did you enjoy the least, and why?

It can be easy to feel disconnected from those we study in history. In these cases specifically, their style of writing and manner of describing situations made it initially difficult to connect beyond memories of history classes. But as I moved deeper into the years and writs I continually found moments of humanity that were felt even 250 years later. I enjoyed these small moments the most, from the simple drawings scribbled on the back of a witness summons, to an entire page crossed out in error, to the many pages stained from tipped-over ink pots. This collage of mistakes and manifestations of boredom made it easy to imagine these people living their lives. Being able to find that connection in history is always the most rewarding for me.

As for what I enjoyed the least, due to the nature of the documents you are often left with not enough information to create a full picture. There have been multiple instances of cases that hint at something larger but with only the writ available that detail is never delivered. While I may not be privy to the full history of these cases at that moment, it is fulfilling to know that my work may assist someone down the line who is working to uncover that story.

single page of paper with drawings of people and a chicken

Doodles on the back of a witness summons.

single page of paper with struck-through handwriting

Page of text crossed out.

single page of paper with handwriting, wax seal, and ink blots

Ink-stained court document.

What have you learned about court records, history, or in general over the course of working on the Uncovering New Haven project?

I have gained a much deeper understanding of this historical period during my time working on this project. From the language used to the issues that people faced to the laws that were in place, this era has become much more fleshed out in my mind.

Something that I had very little previous knowledge of, but now feel very familiar with, is legal documents and language. These court records have provided an excellent primary resource for learning the basics of how court documents are conceived and organized, as well as what elements they contain.

I will also add that my ability to read cursive has greatly improved over the past few months! While I did learn cursive in elementary school, I had very little recent exposure to it beyond signing my name and reading the occasional card from a family member. Working in depth with the handwritten documents very quickly sharpened that ability to the point of reliably reading the records quickly.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your internship experience?

My previous experience in the field has been solely in public libraries and providing reference services to the public. I had used archival services before but had never stepped behind the scenes to see or participate in the work that made those resources available. Being able to take an active role in preservation and access has been valuable in understanding the inner workings of the archival field.

This project is made possible through funding from the Historic Documents Preservation fund of the Office of the Public Records Administrator. We also recognize the past support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

logo of stylized book and color splashes representing each department with text: CT State Library Preserving the Past. Informing the Future. logo of eagle with text: National Archives National Historical Publications ampersand Records Commission

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