Interpreting Career Narratives

Document Contents

Users who have been familiar with the CCEd before the public release of the Career Narratives in December 2008 will have been accustomed to being able to call up lists of events associated with named individual clergy in the CCEd. The technical term for these lists is ‘personifications’, and they are result of the linkage of records carried out by the CCEd team. From the launch of the new version of the Database in December 2008, however, in answer to a query users will instead initially have access to what the CCEd team call ‘Career Narratives’. These do not replace the personified lists, but will, we believe, be much more easily intelligible to most users, and they will also allow more sophisticated searches.


What is a Career Narrative (CN), and how does it differ from the personification record for the same individual?

Early in the development of the CCEd, it became apparent that our efforts to include as many clerical career events as possible necessitated the uploading of records which overlapped in their coverage. Not only did this yield duplicate records, but also in many cases we collected records of different phases of a single process: for example, the appointment of a clergyman to a vicarage involved subscription to oaths, presentation to the living, institution, and induction. Each of these stages might occur on a different date, while a ‘subscription’ or presentation, for example, are less certain evidence that the appointment actually took place than an institution or induction. Most historians would regard the ‘institution’ as marking the effective date on which the appointment took place. Matters are even more complicated when it comes to establishing the date at which a clergyman left a position. In some cases we have a resignation, but more often we only have the evidence provided by the notice that he had vacated when his successor was appointed. Moreover, there are some instances where we have no direct evidence stating that the named clergyman had departed, and the best available record may be simply evidence that at some future date someone else now held the position – this information does not appear in the personified records associated with the cleric.

In 2005, however, we secured funding from the AHRC to develop software to process the evidence records linked to an individual in order to identify the best available piece of evidence for each appointment or ordination associated with that individual in terms of its chronological proximity to the event and the degree of certainty it offered that the event it recorded had actually taken place. This was an exceptionally complex task, and inevitably in many cases manual intervention will be able to improve the record still further. But it has now been possible to apply this ‘career modelling’ process to all the records which have been linked to personified individuals in the CCEd (more than 105,000, as of December 2008). Moreover, we have been able to add additional processes to the core purpose of Career Modelling, so that where available it also extracts from appointment, ordination and other records (such as church monuments) evidence of birth, education and death and displays these alongside the career records.

We have called the results produced by this process ‘Career Narratives’. As will apparent at first glance, a Career Narrative is much more akin to a potted career biography than the personifications previously available. In the latter, evidence of ordinations, appointments and vacancies was presented in chronological order in a single list, which might include several records relating to the same event. That list still exists, but overlying it now is the associated Career Narrative in which those records have been sorted according to the events to which they relate, and then for the relative significance and reliability as evidence of that event.

Step by step through a Career Narrative

The best way to explain a career narrative record is to make our way through various elements that may appear in a Career Narrative.

This is the first part of the Career Narrative for William Paley, one of the most famous clergy of the later eighteenth century.

Name and CN Date Range

At the top of the Career Narrative (CN) appears Paley’s name, followed by a CN date range. It is important to understand that such dates are not vital dates (birth and death dates): what they record are the earliest dated events and the latest dated events associated with the individual in the CCEd career modelling process. Where it has proved possible to establish a birth date, this will still not be the start date: this always relates to the first clerical career event (ordination or appointment). The end date may in fact coincide with death, as this was often the reason for the end of a clerical career, as it was for Paley; in others it will be different. One major group where this is the case is those clergy whose careers extended beyond the end of the period covered by the Database.

Below the name can be seen the ‘CCEd Person ID’ number. This is a unique number, generated by the Database, for each person who has been personified. We recommend that users cite this number when referring to the Database entry for a specific person. Alongside there are three clickable texts. The first opens all the toggled lists in the Career Narrative below simultaneously. The second, ‘Key to Code Numbers’, gives access to the list of codes used to describe the degree of reliability of the evidence used in each career narrative, as described below (see Date Codings). The third, ‘View Person Record’, gives the user access to the personification record underlying the Career Narrative.


Below the name there may appear a heading for Comments. If opened by use of the toggle, this reveals any comments added by the team as an aid to their linkage as part of the personified records.

There then follow the results of career modelling for the individual. In some cases, information in ordination records, or on a monumental inscription, or supplied by a user, may allow us to provide information on:

Birth events

In the case used for illustration below (Brockett Smith, CCE ID44713), we only have information identifying a place of birth or baptism (here Ayott, Hertfordshire), but not information as to date. In other cases, we may also be able to supply a date. Clicking on the plus sign next to this information will reveal the evidence from which this information is derived (here we show the result of the click, with the ‘+’ now a ‘–’:

In this case the information is derived from an ordination record (as will be apparent if the user clicks ‘View’ at the end of the line, which gives access to the record for the specific piece of documentary evidence from which the information was derived):

and it also contains an age at ordination, from which an approximate date of birth can be estimated. In others, a date of birth or baptism is given in the evidence, which will generate a result like that below:

Sometimes a full date is derived from a monumental inscription; and where such an inscription gives an age at death, the Career Narrative will offer an estimated date of birth calculated by counting back from the date of death, indicated by ‘est.’ appearing after the date. However, in cases such as Paley, where (as yet) no evidence relating to birth has been linked, the ‘Birth Events’ section will not appear.

After birth events, if present, follows:

Education Events

Here the CN distils as much information as is available from the personified records regarding the university education of the person being considered. Here we can return to Paley:

We can see here that CN has extracted information relating to two degrees mentioned in either Paley’s ordination or appointment records: an MA from Cambridge, and a DD from an unspecified university. Education Events does not necessarily offer a full record of an individual’s educational achievement (for example, to have an MA Paley first had to acquire a BA), but only those mentioned in the records. Often there will be information relating not only to a university, but to a College; but there is no dating information relating to the degrees themselves, since our evidence only testifies to degrees already held at certain points. (It may, however, be possible to pick up hints as to date from the intervals between the evidence records in which particular degrees are entered). As with birth events, a summary list of the evidence records feeding into this account of education can be viewed by clicking on the toggle(s) at the left hand side, and then the full records viewed by clicking ‘View’ at the right. In some cases, as in that below, education events will specify ‘lit.’:

This indicates that the individual was at some point described as a ‘literate’, ie a non-graduate cleric. In other cases, however, where no trace of a degree is contained in personified records, but the person is not specified as ‘lit’, no education events will be described.

Ordination events

After education events, if any, the CN presents any ordination events associated with the person. For most clergy, one might expect two such events in a career: ordination as deacon, and ordination as priest. In Paley’s case, however, at the time of writing only one has been linked, although Paley was certainly priested:

This is a reminder that it is important always to remember that the CCEd is a work in progress, and that additional records are being linked all the time.

Each ordination entry begins by specifying the orders conferred; this is followed by the career modelled date; then in brackets follows the name of the ordaining bishop and his diocese and period of office. As usual, clicking on the toggle button to the left will reveal summaries of the evidence record(s) from which the CN event is generated, and the full record can be viewed by clicking on ‘view’ at the right hand side. Hovering the cursor over the date in CN record will reveal the codes for the dating (see below, Date Codings).

Appointment events

This section of the record lists all the clerical appointments associated with the person by the evidence records linked to the personification. In the case of someone as successful in clerical career terms as Paley, this may be quite extensive:

For each office held, the CN narrative lists the office title, then the location with which the office is associated in the CCEd, followed by the dates selected by the CM software from those available in relevant evidence records as offering the most reliable and chronologically proximate evidence for the start and end of the tenure. As before, summary versions of the evidence records relating to each of these tenures can be viewed by clicking on the toggle button at the left, and the full record then viewed by clicking on ‘view’. Clicking on the location next to any office will take you to the list of all career events for any clergy associated with that location in the CCEd.

Just occasionally, there will be rogue evidence records that are awaiting integration into a CN, or defy such integration! If such exist, they can be examined by viewing the personification records behind the career narrative, accessed by clicking ‘View Person Record’ at the top of the CN frame.

It is in the case of appointments that the project often faces the most difficulty in establishing precise dates, particularly for departures from particular offices. As elsewhere, allowing the cursor to hover over a date will bring up its coding (for details, see below, Date Codings). It is worth making a couple of general points in particular about the end dates given for tenures here. First, in those cases where a tenure extended beyond the period covered by CCEd, we give only a start date. Second, where an individual resigned a benefice, or a licence was revoked, we can give a precise date for the end of a tenure. However, this is a relatively unusual occurrence. In many instances, we have to take a date for the end of a tenure which commences with institution to a benefice or licensing to a perpetual curacy from a record of the person’s vacancy associated with the appointment of his successor. This will often have occurred a relatively short time after the actual end of the tenure, but not always. However, there are many instances where through the vagaries of record survival or record keeping no such record of departure naming the individual exists. The next appointment to the same office may indeed closely relate to the date of departure, but it is not impossible that another ‘lost’ appointment intervened. In certain cases the next appointment recorded for the location does indeed look implausibly remote from the start of a tenure, and where a user thinks this to be so, it is recommended that they check behind the narrative to ascertain the nature of the evidence on which it is based.

The most difficult instance to deal with is that of assistant curates. Not only was no record generated by a departing curate, but in some livings there could be more than one curate or a gap between curacies. In these instances, we have therefore preferred not to assign an end date to the curacy unless specific evidence has been obtained which allows us to do so, or at least to demonstrate a span during which we know the post was held.

The overall point to be drawn from this discussion is that it is important to check the status and evidential basis of end dates in particular rather than to assume that they necessarily represent the actual period during which an office was held.

Death events

The final section of the CN presents whatever evidence the personification record contains relating to the death of the clergyman. Such evidence comes in three main forms: most frequently the mention of death as the cause of vacancy in the record of the next appointment to a living; secondly, from monumental inscriptions; and, thirdly, from wills. Here the monumental inscription will give the most accurate record of either death or burial (to find out which, consult the record underlying the CN by clicking on the toggle at the left and then selecting “view” at the right hand end of the relevant line); but the vacancy may only be recorded some time after the death itself. Wills, too, while generally recording the date of probate, often provide no evidence of the actual date of death. Again, as this indicates, it is therefore important to make use of the date codes and facility to view the nature of the evidence (as done below for Paley) in interpreting the date provided in this section of the CN.

Here, for example, the date given is 7 June 1805, which, as we can see, is derived from two appointment records (generated when his vacant cathedral offices in Lincoln were filled by H. V. Bayley). But in fact Paley died on 25 May 1805.

Date coding

The aim of CCEd is to provide as much information as possible about often very obscure careers involving equally obscure events documented in records in which there are many lacunae. As a consequence we document many career events where we cannot be certain of the precise date on which they occurred, or even whether they definitely took place, from the records that survive. However, in these instances we have nonetheless attempted to give users as much help as we can to establish the approximate date of an ordination, appointment or vacancy.

In consequence, while we can often give a precise date, some of the dates generated relate to preliminary stages of an appointment or ordination, or indicate merely that there is retrospective indirect evidence that they had occurred: for example evidence that someone held a post at a particular date but where the appointment papers have been lost.

In order to help users determine what status the date they are looking at has, and whether, for example, it can be cited as the ‘date of appointment’, each date generated by the career modelling process has been allocated two codes, visible when the user hovers a mouse over the date in question, in the form ‘[1, 1]’. Help with interpreting the codes follows below. Should the codes suggest that they do not represent evidence either that the event indicated certainly took place or of the precise date on which it occurred, users are encouraged to investigate the evidence from which that part of the career narrative has been generated by clicking the button which reveals evidence records; and then to assess the reasons for the coding it has received. Unless it is 1,1 (see below), users should exercise caution in citing the dates provided as if they were the actual date of appointment.

Certainty codes

The first number is what CCEd defines as a ‘certainty code’: it offers an opinion on how far the evidence from which the date is drawn offers the user reliable evidence that the event in question actually occurred.

Of the codes that follow, the most important and frequently encountered are 1, 1b, 2 and 5.

1: If a date has a code of 1, this indicates that the type of evidence from which it is drawn offers the best possible basis for assuming the event occurred as described. This is the number generated by a direct record of an act of institution or licensing in a bishop’s act book, for example.

1b: This code is used to indicate that the record offers a degree of certainty similar to that indicated by ‘1’ but generated at a remote time from the event itself. Thus we use this code for evidence of a vacancy of a living generated by the record of that vacancy in the institution of the next incumbent. Whereas a Resignation record here would generate a ‘1’ as recording the event itself, the vacancy as recorded in an institution may have been noted some time after the event, which in itself makes the accuracy of the record marginally less reliable.

2: This code indicates that the date is derived from evidence that makes it extremely likely that the event referred to did indeed occur, but that there are instances where we know for a fact that such evidence relates to an event which did not take place. The most frequent example of this is an appointment recorded only through the subscriptions taken by the candidate before admission to office. We know, for example, of ordinations where for a variety of reasons those who had subscribed did not actually have orders conferred upon them.

3: This code indicates that the evidence indicates that an event was expected to occur, but might nevertheless have been prevented from taking place by the intervention of a bishop imposing a veto. This code will be encountered where the absence of a direct record or ordination has forced the team to make use of a record of letters dimissory being issued by a bishop to a colleague asking them to ordain the cleric in question. Of course, in such cases, the subsequent career may appear to substantiate the direct evidence relating to ordination, but given that on occasion clerics did operate with improper ordination papers, the coding indicates a note of caution.

4: This code will be manually assigned to any cases where the CCEd team find evidence that someone sought orders as a candidate for orders, but the ordination itself is not recorded. Of course, in such cases, the subsequent career may appear to substantiate the direct evidence relating to ordination, but given that on occasion clerics did operate with improper ordination papers, the coding indicates a note of caution.

5: This is the weakest certainty coding available: it indicates that the only evidence that the CCEd has concerning an event is indirect evidence that it had occurred, or was believed to have occurred by contemporaries. One example might be a case where a clergy list records somebody in post at a particular date and yet we have no direct evidence of their vacating the post. In a case where the next available evidence for someone else in post dates from an implausibly remote year, the team may prefer to give the last recorded sighting of the person concerned in post as the nearest approximation we have to a date for the end of his tenure. Similarly we might take the same view in using indirect evidence for an ordination. In almost all cases it will only be allocated after a manual intervention by the CCEd team.

Date Codes

The second number in the coding is the date code.

1: A date with this code can confidently be taken to give the actual date the event described occurred. Thus since CCEd has taken the act of institution to represent the effective commencement of an appointment to a benefice, all direct records of institution are allocated a ‘1’.

1b: In this case the same can be said, except that there has been an additional opportunity for scribal error, as for example in the copying down of an institution/ordination record at a subsequent visitation recorded in a register of orders.

2: Here the date given may be the actual date of the event, but might also record a date a few days before or after. A good example of this is a date derived from subscription record, as candidates often subscribed the night before ordination, but in some cases did so on the same day. There were in fact some subscriptions which occurred some considerable time before an appointment, so this should be borne in mind (this is, of course, one reason why this sort of evidence will also have a lower certainty score).

3: Here the date provided may well have a looser relationship to that of the ordination or appointment it records, being possibly a date some time before or after an event occurred. A common instance of this code is the date of a vacancy derived from the next appointment record: since we do not know how long the living was vacant for, this is the appropriate code. We also use this code where the best available date provides only a year but no month or day.

4: The date offered here may have a pretty remote relationship with the event to which it supposedly relates, and must be treated with due caution. We use this code, for example, where we have a record of someone else being in post without an intervening appointment record as the first evidence that a tenure has ended.

5: This is the weakest code for dating. We use this where we believe the date given offers no further assistance to determining the actual date of an event other than that it occurred at some unknown point before or after (depending on the nature of the evidence) the date given. We use this for example where the only evidence of someone holding an office is their vacating of it, and so the only date available to generate the date the office commenced is the same. Another instance is where we only have a liber cleri record of someone being in post and no subsequent evidence for the end of a tenure, and have adopted this last sighting of the person in post as the end date. It is also employed for death events derived from a vacancy record to indicate that it is not of the same quality as a date derived from a monument.