The past is a foreign country

The title of this post is from the novel The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, published in 1953: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’.

These examples are useful to bear in mind when looking at old parish records, wills and deeds:
– Before 1751, the year ended on 25 March, not 31 December
– Spellings were not standardised before the 19th century, leading to a wide variation in the spelling of forenames, surnames and other words
– ‘Bastard’ is often used to indicate a child born out of wedlock
– ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ were often used as courtesy titles for families that had status in their community, and ‘Mrs’ did not always indicate that a woman was married. A burial record from the parish of St Andrew, Exeter dated 13 January 1741/2 is worded Mrs Lucretia Yeo child
– These names have been used in the past for boys but have since dropped out of use: Ames, Azarias, Digory, Melchard
– Similarly, these names for girls: Appoline, Argent, Beaton, Emblin, Honor, Julian, Richorde and Wilmot. Julian, in particular, is now used as a boy’s name.

Martyn Yeo


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