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In the Society for Creative Anachronism, one can register medieval names and heraldic devices with the College of Heralds. Here's what the Governing Documents of the Society say about the rules the registration process should follow:

Standards of difference and other rules: Laurel shall define standards suitable to the
type of item to be registered, and apply them uniformly to all such submissions. These standards shall be
designed to support the historical re-creations of the Society and to provide sufficient difference from names
and armory registered within the Society to avoid undue confusion, to avoid the appearance of unearned
honors or false claims, and to provide sufficient difference from historical or fictional personages to prevent
offense due to obvious usurpation of identity or armory. Members are encouraged to develop unique,
historically valid names and armory.

Under the current rules and policies, anyone who wishes to participate in the registration process must submit a unique name. (Some historically invalid names are still registrable, but "insufficiently unique" names are not.) The name is required even if one only wishes to register a heraldic device. Registering a name costs about $10 (the exact amount varies from kingdom to kingdom) and takes about nine months. Registering a device is another $10 or so.

One of the reasons that the SCA is attached to the unique name system is that the current registration system depends on paper files organized by this unique registered name. (There are other reasons, of course; a discussion of some of them can be found at the Campaign to End Name Uniqueness, and a more complete view may be obtained by joining the SCAHRLDS mailing list and browsing the archives.) This post proposes a partially computerized filing system. I want to describe why such a system is technically feasible and would allow for greater flexibility, including re-evaluating the "registered SCA name" and "unique SCA name" requirements, if we wish to do so.

The Current System

Here's the path a submission takes, under the current system.

  1. A person submits paper forms to a kingdom submissions herald: two copies of everything for a name submission, three copies for a device submission. The forms ask for registered or proposed SCA name, legal name, address, kingdom and branch of residence, and e-mail address (optional). They also ask for a person's birth date, as an extra check on identity, in case somebody changes his or her legal name.

  2. The forms are received at kingdom. The kingdom heralds evaluate the name and device for historical plausibility and check for conflicts. The name or device may be returned for further work at this stage; if the name doesn't pass kingdom, the device is also returned.

  3. If a name (and device) are deemed acceptable at kingdom, the kingdom submissions herald scans the device and enters non-personal information about the submission, such as documentation for the name and what changes a submitter has deemed acceptable, on http://oscar.sca.org/index.php, the Society-wide commenting system. This generates a Letter of Intent. Members of the College of Arms evaluate the submission, and the other submissions on that Letter of Intent, for historical plausibility, and check for conflicts.

  4. Meanwhile, the kingdom keeps one copy of the paper submission, and one is mailed to the Laurel archive in Montana. The third copy (for devices) goes to Wreath Sovereign of Arms, who will refer to it during the decision meeting.

  5. Wreath and Pelican Sovereigns of Arms hold meetings about devices and names, respectively. Their decisions are published in a Letter of Acceptances and Returns. If the device passes but the name does not, Pelican may (with the submitter's permission) register a "holding name", which usually takes the form "Given Name of SCA Branch Name".

  6. Once the LoAR is published, the kingdom submissions herald notifies the submitter of the outcome, and Ragged Staff Herald in Montana files all of the paperwork under the registered name (if applicable) or submitted name (if none was successfully registered).

  7. Registered items are recorded in the Ordinary and Armorial.

Under the current system, the paper submissions forms are the official record of a submission. Any changes made must be recorded on the paper form, and all of a person's submissions (including alternate names, re-submissions, badges, household names, etc.) must be filed together. If one of the Sovereigns of Arms wants to see a submitter's previous submissions, Ragged Staff must pull the file and scan it. Ragged Staff is scanning new submission files together with some older registrations, but this process goes slowly, and the thumbnail images that kingdom submissions heralds produce for OSCAR aren't of the quality that Wreath needs to make device registration decisions.

The current system is rigid: there is only one way to find a given record (look it up in the file cabinets in Montana under the registered name), and making changes requires a physical human being to enter the (non-climate-controlled) storage area and physically move files around.

Database Entries, Not File Folders

Here's the key idea: we need to know what is registered to each person, and where to find the paper record of a particular submission when only paper will do. We do not necessarily need to keep every single piece of paper connected to a particular individual in the same physical location. We can replace the file folder with the unique SCA name by an entry in a database which tracks the information submitters give us (legal name, birth date, branch, etc.) together with submission history and scans of forms. Naturally, such a database would require a robust backup system and robust security: only the types of people who currently have access to the paper forms should be granted access to personal information such as addresses and phone numbers.

Here's how a submitter would navigate a database-primary submissions process. (This is a fairly conservative version, which assumes that the submitter starts with paper forms, which he or she may have filled out the old-fashioned way, under a tent at an event.)

  1. The submitter submits a device form, if desired. The submitter may choose to submit either a name form or an "I do not want to register an SCA name" form. The latter form would require the submitter to sign below a statement along the lines of, "I understand that since I do not have a registered name, my device will be listed in the Ordinary & Armorial under Anonymous, and that only submissions heralds and I will have the ability to access my personal information." The forms should also have a checkbox for "I have never submitted anything to the College of Arms".

  2. The kingdom submissions herald or a designated clerk receives the forms and enters the information (including address, etc.) in the secure database. The system runs an automated check for individuals with the same SCA name or same given name and birthdate, and flags possible matches. At this stage, the submissions herald can link the new submission with the submitter's past history, or contact the submitter if more information is needed (if somebody indicates that they have previously submitted a name or device, but no record appears, for instance).

  3. If the submitter has included an e-mail address, the system generates an e-mail to the submitter verifying that the submission has been received. If this is a new account, the submitter will also have the opportunity to log in and create a password which can be used to track submissions and check that personal information is correct.

  4. Kingdom evaluation of the submission proceeds as usual. When the submission is forwarded to Laurel (or perhaps at Kingdom, if Kingdom has a good-quality scanner) the forms are scanned. These scans are accessible in the database to anyone with the proper permissions.

  5. The paper forms for this submission are filed at Laurel under kingdom, Letter of Intent date, and Letter of Intent number. The date and number is recorded in the database, for later cross-referencing. (Files for submissions made prior to the introduction of the database remain where they've always been, filed under SCA primary name.)

This scheme does assume that Wreath can use scanned versions of old submissions to make most decisions, when those scans are available. (Name submissions already use scanned information, since the current Pelican Queen of Arms lives in the Netherlands.)


Q. So you get a submission from Jane Smith who wants to change her registered SCA name from Elinor Strangeway to Isabel Mudge. You've got database records for a Jane Doe/Elinor Strangeway and a Jane Roe/Elinor Strangeway. Neither of the original submitting kingdoms match the new submission. What happens next?

A. The kingdom submissions herald (or a designated clerk) checks the birthdays and e-mail addresses on each record. If the birthday and e-mail address matches either Jane Doe or Jane Roe, that record can immediately be linked to Jane Smith's submission; the database should generate a message to the submitter noting that personal information has been updated. If the birthday and e-mail information is not sufficient, or if the College decides that double-checking is a better policy, the submissions herald contacts Jane Smith and asks whether she has recently changed her name, whether she has previously lived in a different kingdom, and if she can confirm her birth date. Note that submissions heralds already have to contact submitters to establish identity in cases where submitters don't realize that a name or device is already registered and try to submit it again.

Q. What if people lie about their birthdays and then can't remember what date they made up?

A. This is already a problem under the current system, but my proposal offers people a way to check and correct their personal information, which is not currently available.

Q. If items are listed as "anonymous", how do they get identified in ways that allow people to check their ability to be used on scrolls, for example? Would you have the scribes check in with the submissions herald?

A. A scribe would have to check with either the person in question or a submissions herald. Alternatively, kingdoms could permit scribes to look up a blazon in an unofficial record which used unregistered SCA names, such as a local branch roll of arms or order of precedence, and then confirm the exact wording of the blazon in the Ordinary and Armorial.

Q. Isn't that more of a hassle than just choosing a registrable SCA name?

A. Yes. We would still encourage people to choose historically valid and unique names. We just wouldn't have to force them to pay for names they didn't plan to use.

Q. Why stick with paper forms at all? Why not allow purely online registrations?

A. Wreath wants paper forms for device submissions, and the conservative element of the College of Arms would really prefer a paper backup. (We're a volunteer organization, and sometimes volunteers' lives implode, so it's nice to have a little redundancy.) Also, we're a medieval recreation society, and people still want to submit names and devices at events which don't have internet access.

Q. All of the programmers in the College of Arms have their hands full working on OSCAR, maintaining the Ordinary & Armorial, building Orders of Precedence, and so forth. The College doesn't have the time and resources to invest in creating the system you're describing.

A. Right now I'm trying to explain why such a system is technically feasible, would make the submissions process run more smoothly, and wouldn't require us to collect more personal information than we already ask for: this is a proof of concept discussion. But I do personally believe that the initial effort would pay off in efficiency and goodwill over the long term. If and when Laurel Sovereign of Arms and her team agrees with me, we can work on implementation.

Q. I like the idea of moving from a paper system to a computerized system for heraldic registrations, but I still think one should register a unique name in order to register a device.

A. Great! Let's work on the stuff we agree on.

Q. What if someone forgets the password for their online submissions account?

A. They can ask the system to e-mail them a reset code, just as every other online account works.

Q. What if someone forgets the password and changes e-mail addresses simultaneously?

A. They'll have to get in touch with a submissions herald. This will usually happen in the context of a re-submission or other new submission.

Q. What if somebody doesn't have an e-mail address?

A. They'll have to use a trusted friend's e-mail address, or else give up the advantage of tracking a submission online.

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