Wonderful words

I first came across the word wapentake about 12 years ago when I started working at the record office – I understood that it described an ancient jurisdiction, similar in meaning (though not necessarily in geography) to the district and borough jurisdictions we have today.  I also discovered that the term hundred was also an area delineating a particular ancient jurisdiction.

I am currently reading Viking Britain, a very interesting book by co-curator of the British Museum’s 2014 Viking exhibition, Thomas Williams and actually learned the etymology (origin) of the word: it comes from the Old Norse vápnatak meaning weapon-taking thus telling us about the people (men) who would have attended the meetings from that area, i.e. those who carried weapons (Williams, 2017, p. 222).

This got me thinking about lots of other words that we come across quite regularly at the record office but perhaps just take for granted without thinking about where they come from. So here is a bit of, did you know… as well as some words unfamiliar to the modern vocabulary that favourites amongst our staff.

manuscript – comes from the Latin, manu meaning ‘by hand’ and script meaning ‘to write’

mortgage – a word common in the world outside of historical research, but do you know where the word comes from? Literally meaning ‘dead pledge’, as per the mort in mortuary, and the Old French for pledge gage

frankpledge – a medieval system of self-governance whereby men in groups known as tithings accepted mutual responsibility for the good behaviour of other members of the group. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word itself comes from a mistranslation of the Norman word friϸborh [frithborh] which in turns translates as peace-pledge

wardrobe – did you know that this was also a royal financial institution, evolving out of the role of the keeper of the king’s robes who was also responsible for managing his personal expenses?

hundred – in context of local administration, hundreds, like the wapentake was a subdivision of the shire. First explicitly mentioned around 940 AD but the hundreds with their regular judicial gatherings are undoubtedly earlier.

infangthief: formed from the following components – (1) the adverb in (2) fangen, being the past participle of fon meaning ‘to seize’ and (3) ϸéof meaning ‘thief’. Literally it means “thief sized within”, and in practical legal terms meaning the right of the lord to of a manor to try and to amerce (i.e. fine) a thief caught within the manor. By contrast, outfangthief is the right of the lord to pursue a thief beyond the boundaries of his jurisdiction and bringing him back to the manor court for trial.

roods and perches – historically land was measured in acres, roods and perches (a r p). Whilst we are still familiar with acres today, roods and perches have been lost to posterity. Traditionally, an acre is the area that can be ploughed by eight oxen in one day (the word itself coming from the Latin for field), there are four roods in an acre, and 40 perches in a rood.

messuage – an Anglo-French word originally referring to the portion of land for a dwelling place. It is probable that the word originated from a misreading of mesnage referring to economical management and the verb ‘to husband’

husbandman – husbandry refers to work in the domestic economy, not with respect to the domestic duties we think of today, but rather the agricultural side of domestic life. Husbandman refers specifically to the occupation of those employed in the field of husbandry. Although the original Middle English use of the word does relate more to the management of the household.

hereditament – from the Latin hereditamentum and referring to property that would be inherited by the common law descendent of its owner unless explicitly stated otherwise in a will. This is a common term in early modern and later title deeds, but the specific legal implication may not always be appreciated by its modern reader.

appurtenance – another very common term in title deeds referring to a ‘thing’ or minor property that pertains to another. It comes from the Latin appertinentia, and has equivalents in Middle English and Anglo French.

demesne – historically pronounced de-main, but now usually pronounced de-mean, this word has the same origin as the word ‘domain’ and ultimately comes from the Latin for lord, dominicus. It means the land owned and occupied by the lord rather than being let out to tenants – nevertheless, the work on the land was generally done by his feudal tenants.

nervous – did you see Melanie’s recent post about a letter in the Miller Mundy collection sent two days after the Battle of Trafalgar, which includes the following sentence relating to Admiral Nelson’s message to the sailors before the battle: “The Captains of course turn’d their men up and read the short but nervous sentence to them”. It was pointed out to me that ‘nervous’ did not mean apprehensive (perhaps about the impending the battle), but rather it is the Middle English meaning sinewy, vigorous and strong.

What about place names?  We can’t unfortunately provide a full list here, but here are some of the favourites of record office staff:

Fenny Bentley – meaning boggy grass pasture.

  • Like the Fens, fenny refers to marshy or boggy land
  • ‘bent’ comes from the Old English beonet and refers to ‘grass of a reedy habit’ or to a ‘place covered in grass’
  • -ley is a very common place-name ending meaning pasture

Nearby Hungry Bentley probably relates to the poor quality of the land or possibly the poor food of its inhabitants.

bourne – there are lots of places in Derbyshire and across the country ending with ‘bourne’ and it means small stream or brook. Ecclesbourne then means ‘church by the small stream’. Although it might be tempting to read Ashbourne as referring to a tree by a small stream, ash also means stream so Ashbourne literally means ‘stream stream’.

And did you know that the £ sign evolved from the abbreviated form of the Latin word for pound – libra. Contracted to li with a line through to indicate that it was abbreviated.

References

Thomas Williams (2017) Viking Britain: a history (link to library catalogue)

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1959)

Kenneth Cameron (1959) Place-Names of Derbyshire

Do you have any favourite words or Derbyshire place names with an interesting origin?

Beginner’s Latin

A guide for family historians using church registers before 1733 when Latin is the official language, identifying key words and phrases to help you make sense of the records.

Although not the common spoken language in England, the official written language was Latin until 1733. Many priests did start using English before 1733, and it is very common to find entries during the Civil War (1643-1653) and Commonwealth (1653-1660) periods too. If you studied Latin at school, this will help, but beware Medieval Latin can be archaic and is quite different from Classical Latin.

A few words of warning before you begin
  • Abbreviations: Latin words and names are heavily abbreviated. Although the abbreviations are not always consistent, they are often found as a at the end of the word or a line across the top near where the missing letters should be: e.g. Johes [Johannes – John] or Rici’ [Ricardi – Richard]
  • Inflections: Latin is an inflected language, meaning that many words, such as personal names, have different endings according to their meaning. For example, Hannah filia Caroli Lomas et Hanne uxoris bapt. Meaning: Hannah daughter of Charles Lomas and Hannah his wife was baptised.
  • Spelling: There is no standard spelling of surnames and many place names; this doesn’t mean a name has been spelt incorrectly as all forms are correct. It is also very unusual to find a capital ‘F’,; instead ‘ff’ is used, but it should be translated as ‘F’. Letters ‘i’ and ‘j’, and ‘u’ and ‘v’ are used interchangeably; and sometimes a ‘c’ will appear where you might expect a ‘t’.
Form of Register Entries

Baptisms: can be identified by the use of words such as baptizat; baptizatus; baptisata; bapt.; baptizarus erat.

The typical entry reads: ‘NAME son/daughter of FATHER’S NAME and MOTHER’S NAME his wife’, e.g. Johannes filius Ricardi Milnes et Helena uxoris baptizat – John son of Richard Milnes and Helen his wife.

  • filius – son of
  • filia – daughter of
  • uxoris – wife of

Marriages: often abbrievated to ‘nupt’, but may also appear as uxorati sunt; conjuncti fuere

Burials: identified by the use of the word ‘sepulta’, often abbreviated to sepult’ or ‘sep

Other words commonly found include:

  • vidua (abbreviation: vid.) – widow
  • spurious/nothus/vliciatus – referring to an illegitimate child
Dates
  • Months: Januarius, Februarius, Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Julius, Augustus, September, October,  November, December
  • Roman Numerals are often used for the date which is squeezed on to the end of a line. Read the dates above and below the entry you are interested in to make sure you have recorded the correct information.

Did you know? Before 1751, the year began on 25 March not 1 January. Entries between 1 January and 24 March are usually entered using the “Old Style” or civil year; but we should understand the date under the “New Style” or the historical year. An entry dated 14 February 1726 actually took place on 14 February 1727 from our point of view. This explains how a child baptised on 8 June 1687 could be buried on 19 March 1687 – as 1688 didn’t actually start for another 6 days.

Personal Names

Some names are generally quite obvious, e.g. Henricus (Henry), Edwardus (Edward), Robertus (Robert), Elizabetha (Elizabeth), Dorothea (Dorothy). But, there are some names that are a little more difficult, and others that are not as obvious as they may seem. Here are some common examples:

  • Antonius – Anthony
  • Carolus – Charles
  • Galfridus – Geoffrey
  • Gratia – Grace
  • Gulielmus – William
  • Helena – Helen
  • Hugo – Hugh
  • Jacobus – James
  • Johannes – John (beware Johanna for Joanne/Joanna)
  • Margareta – Margaret
  • Maria – Mary (sometimes Maria)
  • Petrus – Peter
Some examples from Derbyshire Parish Registers
  • Johes filius Rici’ Milnes baptizat – John son of Richard Milnes was baptised
  • Elizabetha uxor Thome Cartledge sepultus – Elizabeth wife of Thomas Cartledge was buried
  • Thomas Hand et Ellena Turner nupt. – Thomas Hand and Ellen Turner were married
  • ffranciscus Alwood de Newbold sepult. – Francis Alwood of Newbold was buried (note that ‘ff’ at the beginning of a word is the traditional form of the upper case ‘F’)
  • […] uxor Ed: Hurst sepult. – [Name unknown] wife of Edward Hurst was buried
Further Reading

There are practical online guides with activities available from The National Archives and University of Nottingham: Manuscripts and Special Collections, as well as a large number of published guides on Latin and other tips for using parish registers in our Local Studies Library.

Accessing our resources from home

As we cannot provide access on site at the moment due to the coronavirus, here are some links and tips for research you can do from your computer at home.

Do your family history

  • Baptism, marriage and burial registers for Church of England parishes, some as early as 1538, are on Ancestry (charge applies).  See the guide below for advice on the best way to search and browse these records
  • Baptism, marriage and burial registers for some non-conformist churches in Derbyshire have also been made available by The National Archives on The Genealogist website (charge applies).
  • Over 550 Derbyshire school admission registers and log books (i.e. head teacher’s diaries) up to 1914 are available to search and browse on Findmypast (charge applies), plus thousands more from across England and Wales.
  • Find My Past also includes Derbyshire wills before 1858 and marriage licences held by Staffordshire Record Office and selected Derbyshire electoral registers up to 1932
  • Information about Derbyshire wills between 1858 and 1928 can be searched via our catalogue using the person’s name and reference D96/*, but we are unable to provide copies at this time.  Wills after 1928 can usually be ordered online from the Probate Service
  • Any skeletons in your family closet?  Search our database of prisoner records from 1729-1913

Discover local history

  • Family History websites like Ancestry and Findmypast can also be useful for local history. Take a look at sources like the census and trade directories on these websites.
  • Browse and search nearly 60,000 historic photographs of Derby and Derbyshire on Picture the Past
  • View old maps and explore how the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site has changed over the last 200 years on the Derbyshire Heritage Mapping Portal.
  • Many historic Ordnance Survey maps for Derbyshire are also available from the National Library of Scotland
  • Several Derbyshire newspapers are searchable on the British Newspaper Archive (charge applies)

Learn something new

Don’t forget you can still search our catalogue online to discover what is held in the archives and local studies collections and start planning a future visit?

During the closure, staff will be working on several projects to make more information about our collections available online.   We will be sharing our progress here on the blog and via Twitter and hope we can provide some relief from the stresses and boredom of being inside.

If you are doing any research, why not let us know below, we are sure our other followers will be interested or even have some tips for you.

From all the staff at the record office, stay safe and well, take care.