Short Essays


Excerpted from a message posted to VA-ROOTS by Susan P. Shames. Quoted material taken from Martha Gandy Fales, "Jewelry in America, 1600-1900" pp. 23 - 28 (Woodbridge, Suffolk:Antique Collectors' Club, 1995).

"Mourning jewelry provided a tangible link to the souls who had gone before and served as a constant reminder to the wearer of the fragility of their own human mortality. The ring was a symbol of eternity... As was the custom in the Middle Ages, rings were made for presentation to close relatives and friends at funerals. This tradition was given momentum in England by the execution of Charles I in 1649. ... At first, the decedent's own jewels were disbributed at funerals, but, as the practice grew, jewelry was made especially for the purpose of presentation. Often, rings were provided by the will of the deceased and the costs charged to the estate ... In his diary [Judge Samuel] Sewall [of Boston] listed the fifty-seven rings he received between 1687 and 1725."

 For this time period [ca. 1700], they seem to have come in a range of prices and styles,with some decorated with Death's heads, skeletons, coffins, black enamel and stones.

Susan Shames
Decorative Arts Librarian
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
P.O. Box 1776
Williamsburg, VA 23187-1776


What Age was "Legal Age"?

An excerpt from "Misconceptions Concerning 'Legal' Ages" by Edgar McDonald, Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, Vol. 25 (August 1987)

Contributed by Ghote Dorothy Barnum

...under English Common Law a father's will, having the force of law, frequently determined when a child became of age. Virginia court records abound in instances where father's named their children "of age" as early as 15 and 16. Indeed, a father could give a child "his freedom" verbally. More important, however, is the fact that under English Common Law a witness did not have to be 21 to qualify as such. An "infant," the legal term for anyone under 21, could testify at any age when understanding was presumed, and under common law the age of 14 was accepted without question as the age of discretion. In the second instance, a minor could perfectly well buy land if he had the means or credit. At 14, a male could marry, sign contracts,choose his guardian, bequeath personal property, apprentice himself. He could even sell land as aminor but was usually required to confirm the sale upon arriving at the age of 21; however, where unchallenged, few of these confirmations found their way into the records. The general assumption by many genealogists that 21 was the universal age for civic activities is simply erroneous. While a male had to be that age to vote, he was taxed at 16, and frequently he was mustered into the militia at 16.


The office of coroner was originally established out of concern for the king's interests, not out of concern for medical truth about a death. The coroner (note the root, in Latin) was to make sure that the crown received its due in case something was to be forfeited for the crime, or in certain cases of shipwreck, for example. He was not a medically-trained person, and usually used his power of subpoena to have a physician do the actual autopsy investigation. The office became one of political patronage, even after Independence, when the joke continued to be told that a coroner never saw a dead body. Reform would take a long time.

David Thomas Konig


Yes. It's a Name.

by Gail Walczyk Copyright 1997 by Gail Walczyk

Collecting one's family or genealogy is fast becoming as popular as collecting stamps, coins or baseball cards. Now, with computers and the internet, it's easy to "surf the net" in hopes of finding someone who will share their family information. Most of this information is undocumented and needs to be checked against primary sources to make sure it is correct. But it still can be fun especially if you find a long lost and distant cousin in California who knows who your great great grandfather was.

Along with the information may come some strange names that look like they are made up. They aren't. Just like the names used today, at one time they were just as popular. In the 1700 and 1800s our ancestors named their children after biblical figures, like Elihu or Alihu which is a male name that means "He is my God." In the Bible, Elihu was a young friend of Job.

Josiah means "fire of the Lord" and Zebulon means to honor. Some Hebrew female names that we see in our Eastern Shore records are Keziah, Zipporah, Judah, Euphemia, Triphenia, and others. Keziah means "a powdered cinnamon-like bark, or fragrant." She was one of Job's daughters. Keturah means "a burnt offering," Zipporah is "a bird," and Judah means "praise." Names with Greek or latin meanings were also used. Euphemia or Eyphemia is Greek meaning "good speech" or "well spoken." Triphenia is also Greek meaning "delicate," and Sinah in Greek means "a sign."

Here are some more... Orlando is a form of Roland which is Latin meaning "golden or yellow." Orlando was the nephew of King Charles of England. Alonzo or Alonza comes from the Old English for "noble" and Latin for "funds" and means "a nobleman's estate." Children were sometimes named for noted people of the time and area or even the maiden name of their mother or grandmother. In the late 1900's it was common to name a child after the local doctor such as Dr. Charles Gladstone who practiced on the Islands.

There were quite a few Benjamin Franklins, George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons. Wesley was the last name of the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley. Lorenzo Dow was a early, locally famous Methodist Minister as was Joseph Lybrand and William Seymour. Some names can be traced back to the early settlers. Early in the history of Northampton, Accomac and Somerset counties babies were being named "Scarburgh," "Littleton," "Denwood," "Severn," "Covington," "Parker," and "Sacker." These were all last names of either grandparents, neighbors, or well known and admired local citizens.

Colonial spelling was not formalized as it is today. The clerks of the courts, ministers, and census takers wrote the names just like they thought they heard them such as Bothanna, Britann, and Kissy. Bothanna is actually Parthanna and is Greek for "virgin." Britann is Britannia and means Great Britain, and Kissy was a nickname for Keziah. Names with local origins sometimes were written as what they thought it should be.

Nicknames or pet names were also used in the records. Sedonias which in Hebrew meaning "entice" became Donies. Marys were known as Manies and Sophronias which in Greek means "knowledge" became Floras and Hesters were Hessys.

Today, we have become accustomed to the written word. Some of the older names are not used today, or sometimes misspelled. If you come across a name that is foreign to you, a little research will no doubt prove that it is a name and that it does mean something.

The End.

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