Notarial and criminal sources are fundamental to the study of everyday, lived experiences in imperial and republican Brazil. However, the documents are kept in disorganised archives, there is no catalogue, and exposed to the elements. With lack of government investment and no professional oversight, the material risks disappearing.
Within notarial records, letters of emancipation provide data on the lives of the newly freed; inventories of goods within Wills support the study of material culture; and land deeds indicate the prevalence of female property owners and land consolidation among families. Criminal records help us to understand how the poor navigated the legal system. Further, they provide perspective on the scale of banditry, on blood feuds between families, and on the expansion of the state during the early years of the Republic.
The documents in São João do Cariri and Mamanguape were in collapsible plastic file boxes, spread out across the floor. The two sites are not official archives, but rather active houses of justice. They are not cared for by curators, and eventually the oldest documents will end up lost or in a shredder.
The project digitised 2,020 items produced between 1778 and 1918. The collections represent places, regions, peoples, and economies within the state of Paraíba. The documents were organised and cleaned. Students were trained in digitisation and metadata, and they were involved in the project to increase local capacity and awareness.