What does this say? Deciphering Historical Handwriting
November 20, 2018 12:25 PM   Subscribe

I am researching a genealogical dead end in my family and recently found a death record with the names of the parents of the person I'm stuck at. Exciting! ... But I can't read the names.

I'm looking at the record for Samuel Spears in Concord near the bottom of the below linked pages. The column for parents is on the second page of the two page spread.

Here are three images: the full page spread, the subset of the town of Concord, which looks to me to be all in the same hand, and the specific words I'm trying to decipher.

Death record full page
Death record subset
Specific words Top line of this image.

In comparing to other writing on the page, I'm having trouble determining if that is mother and father's names, or if it's just father's name and mother is blank. I also have no clue what it says.

I have tried messing with contrast, tracing it, etc. but now I turn to all of you!

I'm hopeful I can find the original record that this index points to, but in the meantime, I will entertain any and all guesses.
posted by pixiecrinkle to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pretty sure the second line is Thos (Thomas) and Sarah Newton.

They were definitely having a bad nib day when they wrote that. The ‘a’ in particular is thick where it should be thin.
posted by scruss at 12:36 PM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think it's the first names of the mother and father: Thom[as] & [Sadie?] with the last name left blank and presumably also Spears.
posted by drlith at 12:45 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

drlith, the adjacent lines (e.g. 82, 83, 84, 86) show that the scribe repeated the last name even when it matched the deceased.

Is there any possibility that the scribe accidentally started to fill in the parents' names for line 86 on line 85, abandoned them (and partially scratched them out?), and completed the entry on line 86? It seems like a large coincidence that the first names on consecutive lines would be so similar...
posted by misterbrandt at 12:59 PM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

To me it's most like Tho[ma]s. & Sarah Hinton. I think that's an 'H', not an 'N' - you can see an 'N' in the surname 'Nolan' a couple of lines above.

I think whoever wrote the record was being a bit lazy and just wrote both parents' names across the two columns. Records like this also don't necessarily include the surnames of the parents when they're assumed to be the same as the child.
posted by pipeski at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Agree with scruss on the 2nd line, except possibly Horton not Newton?
posted by wellred at 1:18 PM on November 20, 2018

The first line looks like Thos. [Thomas] & Sarah ---> definitely Sa, the rest is really messily written, but, I got to it as probably Sarah by comparing it to line above it which is Thos. & Mary and to the line below which looks like Thos. & Sarah Hinton
posted by gudrun at 1:32 PM on November 20, 2018

Response by poster: I agree with Thomas and Sarah Hinton, but I'm actually looking at the names on the line above that. The one that only has writing in the first column. (which may lend credence to the "oops I'm on the wrong line" theory posited above.)
posted by pixiecrinkle at 1:48 PM on November 20, 2018

The decedent on Line 86 has a different name and different cause of death than the one on Line 85, so I don't see how 86 can be a correction of 85? Also the parent family name on 86 is Hinton which matches the decedent's family name. I think Line 86 is a red herring if we're trying to find the parents of Samuel Spears.
posted by frobozz at 1:56 PM on November 20, 2018

Oh wait, I see what misterbrandt and others are saying - when Line 85 for Samuel Spears was filled out, his parents were left blank (presumably because they were unknown). Spears died on January 15. Then on the 18th of either Jan, Feb, or Mar (I can't read the month field) he logs the death of J Wm Hinton on Line 86 and accidentally starts writing Hinton's parents' names on the blank fields above.

I agree that looks the most likely.
posted by frobozz at 2:03 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My guess is 'Thomas K. Spears', based on the following: 1) The 'Tho' is very similar to the line below, which I agree is 'Thomas & Sarah Hinton'; 2) The scribe seems pretty meticulous about keeping Father or Mother in the correct column when there is only one (unlike couples, who get spread over the whole line), so I'm assuming this is just a father's name; 3) The writing is messier on this page so I think the last name might have gotten messed up, and I would assume that in this time, sons would OF COURSE take their father's last name, so why bother to correct the sloppy writing for 'Spears' when the name can be clearly read from the first column. The last name clearly starts with an 'S' to my eyes (looks like the capital S from Sarah on line 86), and I think there is similarity between the scrawl that ends the name and the 'r' from Spears in Samuel Spears. I also think the middle initial/character looks different enough from the other ampersands on the page to not be an ampersand in this case (along with keeping strictly to the lefthand column, this is what makes me believe it is not a mistranscription of line 86, as suggested above, although that would be my second guess).
posted by aiglet at 2:20 PM on November 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

pixiecrinkle says: I'm actually looking at the names on the line above that , and I am coming back to add that what I was saying in my first comment is that I am reading the line in question (which is what I call the first line) as Thos. & Sa... [maybe Sarah].
posted by gudrun at 2:56 PM on November 20, 2018

It says Thos. (Thomas) & Sarah Hinton for sure. The line above, corresponding to Samuel Spears, appears to say Thos. & Sarah. The writer has a particular way of writing an ampersand.

I’d imagine that if they made a mistake they would have crossed it out, but obviously nothing is a given.

Have you looked at census records? Assuming you got this from ancestry.com, see if you can go back to Samuel Spear’s early childhood on the census. We know he was born in Penn, and we have a reasonable suspicion that his father’s name was Thomas. If you can find him living with his parents, you can probably confirm their names. Look for the 1820 or 1830 census.

When in doubt, look to other sources!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:12 PM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’ll add too that I don’t think it’s a K. That writer’s K slants to the right, but this does not. I think it looks more like an ampersand. I’m not fully convinced that’s a Sarah, though.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:18 PM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Pretty sure these are copied from original records. You may be able track the original down.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:34 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

In 1830 he's living next door to James Spears. Worth looking into him.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:50 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agree it's Thos. &, for Thomas and, but maybe a non-English name for the mother, beginning with the letter "S"? Guessing Saartje.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:58 PM on November 20, 2018

Response by poster: Gudrun - I knew what you meant. That looks like a direct reply to you but was actually to others.

Iris Gambol -- Saartje is a really interesting idea given some of the ancestry results and the other families nearby. I will see if this pans out!

Shapes... oh believe me, I have looked at the census. I have searched and searched since I was a teenager. These folks seem to have just come out of thin air. But he married into a really prominent family so I'm hoping there's something still out there to find!

Thanks all!
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:31 AM on November 21, 2018

Response by poster: Also, ReluctantViking, James Spears is who I had as his father for the last few years.
But burial records and census seem to point to that not being the case. It's the world's worst red herring. :)
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2018

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