Early Virginia Religious Petitions

Building the Digital Collection

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Digitizing Microfilm

The Early Virginia Religious Petitions were microfilmed at the Library of Virginia in 1966. The microfilm collection consists of three reels, arranged chronologically. Most of the petitions were bound in volumes at the time of microfilming, and a target noting the petition date and the county or city of origin was filmed along the edge of each page. In most cases, a single microfilm frame contains two document pages as they would be seen in a bound volume opened flat. However, the frames were scanned so that each digital image contains only a single document page. The microfilm records every page in the bound volumes, including blank versos and other blank leaves. These have all been preserved in the online collection. In cases where multiple copies of a given petition survive, they were microfilmed in normal chronological succession with no indication of duplicate identity. In contrast, duplicate copies are treated together as a single petition in the online collection.

Because the bound volumes comprise sundry leaves of varying size and shape, the microfilm frames often contain irregular objects such as the verso of a small document leaf on the left and the recto of a large document leaf on the right. The preparation of the documents for microfilming required placing either black or white masking around the edges of smaller leaves, to prevent other pages in the volume from showing through. Custom cropping of the digital images removed this masking while preserving the page edge and the date target described above. Manuscript leaves or bound-volume pages containing text not oriented for reading in the microfilm were reoriented for reading as digital images. Pages containing multiple texts oriented in a variety of directions were left in their original orientations or oriented to the majority of the text.

Microfilm collections of historical documents present a number of challenges to digitization because of the quality of the microfilm being scanned. In addition, there are problems of original document condition, a wide range of tonal values, document sizes, and document orientation on the microfilm. For optimal capture of detail from the microfilm, the religious petitions were scanned from a negative copy. Scanning from the negative microfilm can reduce the appearance of flaws in the microfilm images. The negative was printed directly from the master microfilm and produced for scanning by Preservation Resources.

The digital images scanned from microfilm were produced in JPEG File Interchange Format (JFIF), a compressed grayscale format often used in digitizing historical manuscript documents because of its ability to capture and display a wide range of tonal variations, from those in the document paper to diverse qualities of pencil and ink. This 8-bit grayscale capture was also found to suppress the bleed-through typical of handwritten documents in the microfilm collection. Two versions of each file are offered online: one reduced to a display size of 700 pixels in width, and a larger one whose width varies with the size of the original document.


Database Access

Access to this collection is through search and browse pages that link to a database created from the Calendar of Religious Petitions Submitted to the Colonial and State Legislatures, 1774-1802, an unpublished guide to the collection produced by the Library of Virginia. The Calendar is a chronological listing of 497 religious petitions known to have been submitted to the Virginia legislatures. Only 423 of these are included in the microfilm and have been scanned for the online collection as digital images; the rest do not survive. Every record in the database contains the date of the petition; the place of origin, if known, or the designation "Miscellaneous" if the place of origin is not known; and a brief summary of the petition's content. For those petitions which no longer survive, a summary of the contents has been quoted from the Journal of the House of Delegates. For surviving petitions, a link is provided to page images of the document and any duplicate copies. The database may be searched by place of origin and content summary, or browsed by date and place of origin. A number of petitions were signed and submitted by more than one locality, and these are cross-listed under each county or city.