Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Little Cautionary Note

We are coming to the end of a year, and barring the sun exploding, the beginning of another one.  So it will once again be time when we will be writing the wrong year for a brief while.  We all do it.  It was more frequent back in the old days when we used to write checks to pay for stuff.  But we still do it on calendars, homework, papers, memos, etc.

We genealogists need to be aware that it is not just us modern folk who do that.

I am transcribing yet more documents for my St. Augustine research project.  This time I'm into marriage license applications in St. Augustine from 1785 to 1803.  For one thing, I'm getting a real sense of just how much rigmarole people had to go through to get married in that place and time!  They really must have been in love to put up with all that bureaucratic nonsense!  I'll talk about that in another post.

Another thing I have found is that those who lived two hundred or more years ago were not immune from writing the wrong year.  And they had to really be off the beam to do it, too, because they wrote so many documents, every day.  The government scribe, Domingo Rodriguez de León, did nothing but that, day in and day out.  

And on the cover sheet for the papers involved in the marriage license application for Antonio Palma, of Spain, and Margarita McFail, of Scotland, there is, big as life (in letters of a size comparable to about a 42 typeface today) the month and year that Domingo Rodriguez de León entered -- January 1785. (1)

Well, Domingo -- it was 1786.  The first document in the package, wherein Antonio Palma pleads his case to be allowed to marry his dear Margarita, is dated January of 1785.  Every other document in the package is dated January 1786.  The latter is probably correct, just from the preponderance of appearances of 1786 as the year.  The strange thing is that they did not get married until 4 December 1786.  The reason: is that in 1784, 1785, and 1786, marriages were only performed in December.  The parish had been reorganized, along with everything else in that time period of transition between English and Spanish rule, and the two new priests, Thomas Hassett and Michael O'Reilly, both Irish, were overwhelmed with organizaitonal matters.  As baptisms and burials were performed when necessary, they decided to put marriages on the back burner.  After 1786, marriages were conducted all year round, as requested.  (2)

So be aware in looking at old documents that a date written in January may have the wrong year attached to it, and further verification would be a really good idea.


1.  Marriage license application, Antonio Palma and Margarita Macfail [sic], East Florida Papers, Matrimonial Licenses, Reel 142, Bundle 298R9, folio 12r.
2.  Patricia Griffin, Mullet on the Beach: the Minorcans of Florida 1768-1788 (Jacksonville, University of North Florida Press, 1991). 171.

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