What does this document say? How did it end up in Buxton?

The mystery document

The mystery document

We are used to dealing with “mystery documents” in our outreach work – but that’s where we invite people to examine a document and take a guess at the what/where/when/who/how of it. This one is a genuine mystery. The original is not in our collections – it was recently uncovered at the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton, during work on the floor in the Octagon Hall kitchen. The Gardens were not opened until 1871, yet this document is dated 1850. Where is it from? What was it for? And in what language is it written?

My first thought was German, because I can see the month written as “Januar”, but I didn’t recognise any of the diacritics. We have enough in-house expertise to determine that the language is neither Dutch nor Swedish. One attempted transcription has the date as “24ten August, 1850” and, before that, under the underlined name, “ist in ? Stadt am dreissigsten January 1818 … geboren”. Which makes it sound like a birth certificate. It may also say “das Magistrat” before the name of the town. And what of the town? If it says Roonburg, then we are in modern-day Germany, or, in 1850, the western extremity of Prussia. But maybe it doesn’t say Roonburg… You see what I mean about mystery. I wonder if anyone out there can identify it by the seal? We would be very impressed, and our friends at the Pavilion Gardens would be very grateful.

5 thoughts on “What does this document say? How did it end up in Buxton?

  1. So is this his passport – which means that he could have mislaid the document when visiting Buxton? That could have been a nightmare!

  2. Glad you’ve found him and the seal, even if it doesn’t explain why his birth certificate was under the floor! Sorry I misread the place: was convinced it was a P not a C so obviously need to do more work on palaeography …

  3. I think you’re right that it’s some sort of authentication of his birth (to allow him to travel abroad?) and it’s definitely a Germanic dialect, not Hochdeutsch. I wonder if it might be Silesian German. I don’t have any knowledge of this language, but 1) the accents look similar to some of those in Polish which was another language spoken in Silesia at the time so might have ‘cross-fertilised’ the dialect. 2) if the place isn’t the last word – which may be the name of the magistrate instead – it may be the word immediately preceding the 1850 date, which looks something like Presnidz (which again sounds Polish).
    I can’t see a city/town called this in Silesia, but there is a large village near Katowice which had the German name Preiswitz (now the Czech Przyszowice). It does have a coat of arms featuring a tower, but in a different style with alas no portcullis, (http://www.xklsv.org/viewwiki.php?title=Przyszowice) so this may all be a complete red herring!
    If you haven’t already, it would be worth looking for him in the 1861/71 censuses at Buxton, in case he was over here working on the Gardens.

  4. Have you tried identifying the seal? This may be able to place the document or suggest who might have drafted it. I would suggest contacting Dr Elizabeth New at Aberystwyth University. Although her expertise are in Medieval Welsh seals she may know the best person to approach to get it identified.

    Ruth Kusionowicz

    • Thank you for both comments. We have had an offer to transcribe/translate it from an archivist in another service. Meanwhile, here is what else we have found out: It is German, written in an old script, called Suetterlin (so I think Bookwormmum gets a tick for that). The signatory is the Magistrate Roennberg. Babyarchivist was right that the seal is relevant – another archivist has identified the seal as being that of Crivitz, south-east of Lubeck. It is a replacement birth certificate in the absence of the original, generated for the municipal records. There is an online biography of the subject of the certificate:


      My Derbyshire colleague Helen has managed to find details of Meyer on census records, as well as his marriage and death (in Jersey). One of his children is accompanied on the 1901 census by an “invalid attendant”; if health was a problem, perhaps he came to Buxton at some point to take the waters – but why would you need your birth certificate? We don’t have patient records for the Devonshire Hospital unfortunately, but we will have a check through such records as we do have to see if there are clues…

      Again, thank you so much for all your help.



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