Records Say the Darnedest Things
We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.
Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.
Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”
As we try to understand older records, it is important to remember that the meanings of words shift over time. If your ancestor’s occupation was “quarrel-picker,” you might mistakenly conclude that he was a fighter. Obviously, a “quarrel-picker” is someone who picks quarrels.1
But “quarrel” is a homonym. It can also refer to a quadrilateral shaped object. At one point in history a a square or diamond shaped piece of glass was called a quarrel. Your quarrel picking ancestor was nothing but a harmless glazier.2
Well, I suppose your ancestor was harmless… unless he was a shard wielding, quarrel-picking quarrel picker…
Yes, records say the darnedest things.
1. Abel Boyer, The Royal Dictionary Abridged in Two Parts (London: 1728), s.v. “pick;” images online, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 6 June 2011), id=4ChFAAAAcAAJ.
2. “Diogenes Robb’d of His Tub: or, the World Despis’d,” State Tracts: Containing Many Observations and Reflections, ed. Joseph Browne and William Oldisworth (London: 1715), 90; images online, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 6 June 2011), id=BkFWAAAAYAAJ. This tract was perhaps from the periodical Growler, or Diogenes Robbed of his Tub, published 1 February 1710/11, perhaps by Abel Boyer.
Jeffrey Kacirk’s Forgotten English daily calendar provided this example.