Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where there's a will, there's often paleography

My cousin Ginger, who has been a museum director (and therefore appreciates good research and good citations), returned not long ago from a trip to England, the lucky dog! I wanted to stow away in her luggage, but that would have far exceeded the weight limit!

She went to Suffolk, ancestral home of our 8x-great-grandfather Samuel Packard. She brought back copies for both of us of a few wills from ancestors a little further back, including one from probably our 10x-great-grandfather Moses Packard, who died in 1604. The writing is florid, though it is a hand I am familiar with from paleographical studies in connection with the course of study I took from the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, Toronto, Ontario Canada (through the University of Toronto, which records the grades and issues the transcripts and the certificates of completion). I can read a little bit of it right off, but to read it completely will take study and time I do not have right now.

Many of the letter forms used in these documents are similar to those I find in the Spanish documents I sometimes work with. The scribes who wrote these documents were not isolated and insular fellows. Many of them traveled around Europe. Many of them were taught by instructors who had traveled around Europe, and who might be from a different country. So they used many of the same letter forms and often the same or similar abbreviations.

Abbreviations were used to save penstrokes, because after all, they were doing this all day -- writing documents laboriously by hand. With quill pens. It makes my arthritis-riddled hands ache to think of it!

The other fun of paleography is the lack of orthogaphy - that is, there was no regularized spelling, no "correct" way to spell a word - in those days. Thee other funne of palaeographie is ye lacke of orthographye - thatt is, there was noe regularized speling, no "corect" way to spelle a worde - in thos daies. That's how the sentence might have looked in the 16th or 17th century. Makes for interesting reading, for sure.

I'm looking forward to continuing to be a blatant history nerd (and genealogy nerd, of course) and studying the wills over the holiday break in December. Ginger and I are hoping they will open up new leads to the study of the family, especially of those who remained behind in England while Samuel - an outcast because he had abandoned the family's affiliation to the Church of England and become a Separatist - left England for Puritan Massachusetts.

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