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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Abstracts vs. Digital Records

Genealogists have been abstracting county records for decades.  In Virginia, this is an important work, especially in the 1600s and 1700s.  The reason is that the surviving records are torn and illegible except to the trained eye. Remember, in those days, people inscribed their letters with a flourish.  However, except for the rare exceptions, abstracts do not tell the whole story. You really need to see the script and decipher the names and bequests for yourself.  I love old wills, because the flavor is in the meat. The style of writing, the sentiment expressed, and the small details are all exciting clues where to search next. Frequently, I can read the old-timey script better than the abstractors. This talent is learned though study of the letters, the times, and the testators.  The era is important.  Thus, abstractors come up with some pretty strange interpretations.  The name Ross is frequented deciphered as "Rop". Why? The double-s resembles a more modern-day "P". "Your Servant" is translated into "Your Pervant". The Capital S appears as a P. A general knowledge of the era is helpful in a more correct decipher. Then there is Latin. Before 1500 A. D., Latin was used in the English records and the characters do not resemble anything is familiar. Hence, one must break it down, letter by letter. The first paragraph of any last will and testament generally reads "Know all men by these presents tha (or In the Name of God, Amen) , I, John Smith, being old and infirm, do hereby make this my Last Will and Testament." The "I" (written in front of John Smith does not always have a coma after it.)  So where I am going. The legal language is a guide to learning the letters, irrespective of whether they are Latin, Colonial, or Victorian. Familiarizing oneself with hand-writing throughout various era, is a very interesting study. A lost art, early.

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