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English Common Law | Cousins Explained
     Death Inventory Items | Reading Old Handwriting

 

English Common Law, 18th Century Virginia

At age 14 for males (age 12 for females), one could:

  • Witness documents
  • Testify in court
  • Select their own guardian
  • Serve as an apprentice
  • Be punished for a crime
  • Show land to processioners
  • Sign contracts
  • Act as executor
  • Bequeath property by will

At age 16 for males, one could:

  • Be listed as thithable
  • Be mustered into militia
  • Serve as processioner
  • Take possession of land holdings

 

At age 18 for males, one could:

  • Be licensed to practice a trade

At age 21 for males (age 18 for females), one could:

  • Release their guardian (or at time of marriage)
  • Be married without parental (or guardian) consent

At age 21 for males, one could:

  • Plead/sue in court
  • Own land
  • Devise land by will
  • Be eligible for most public offices
  • Serve on a jury (grand, petit, coroner)
  • Vote

Cousins Explained

One difficulty that researchers always seem to share is the one of 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousin, and how many times removed that cousin is. This explains the way to figure out "#th Cousin, # Removed".

Figure out which # (number, i.e., 6 great-) grandparent is the common ancestor between two individuals. If the number is the same, you've got it made. Example: if the common ancestor is your 6th gr-grandparent and the other person's 6th gr-grandparent, add 1 to the 6. You are seventh cousins.

If the number is not the same, add 1 to the smaller number giving the "cousins" portion, then subtract the smaller from the larger giving the "removed" portion. Example: if the common ancestor is your 9th gr-grandparent and the other person's 7th gr-grandparent, add 1 to the smaller number (7) giving 8, then subtract 7 from the larger number (9) giving 2. You are eighth cousins, twice removed. That is, it takes one person two generations to get to the person who is an eighth cousin, and that is why he/she is twice removed.

Some Unusual Death Inventory Items Explained

Reading Old Handwriting and Looking for Names

Before doing research in old records, it is a good idea to become familiar with all the variants in letter formation. Many errors are made by people who are not familiar with the handwriting styles of the colonial and pioneer periods in our country. Since I can't give you samples of old handwriting via email, I would like to recommend that you get a book on the subject and study it. You'll be glad you did.

There are some very common pitfals that I can comment on--even without illustration. The letters "s" and "f" are often confused. Both the capital and lower case versions of these two letters look the same in the handwriting of some of our ancestors. Vowels are often hard to distinguish too. Example: If you take these two pitfalls together, it is easy to see why the names Samuel and Lemuel are often exchanged. When looking for a name, let's say, in the census, if you can't find it, try exchanging the vowell for every other vowel.

In the colonial period you will find that a double "s" is written as though it were an "fs". Thus, the name Melissa may look like Melifsa and, therefore, be misinterpreted. I think you can see the problem without any more examples!

Another possible pitfall in looking for our ancestors is not being familiar all the various nicknames that might have been used for a particular given name. One of my ancestors was named Mary Brandon. It wasn't until I learned that Polly was a nickname for Mary that I finally found her on the 1850 census in her father's household as Polly Brandon. Another nickname for Mary is Molly and another one is Mae. If you have an ancestor listed somewhere as Molly, you need to look for her as Mary too. Or, if you know your ancestor was Mary, be sure to check for the nicknames Molly, Polly and Mae. This principle applies to all names. Also, be sure to realize that some nicknames apply to more than one given name.

Bob Brandon, Listowner

For more information on reading old handwriting see: http://earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/howto.html

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