What do you mean Mrs. Smith is not married? Terms can be fusing Terms can be confusing. In the 17th century and part of the 18th century social norms of the time used terms such as Mrs. meaning Mistress as a form of distinction and respect. In the same token, terms for cousins, brother, sister, mother, and father were used in legal documents for family members other than how we refer to them today.
When doing a genealogy or family history we forget that terms we use nowadays are not the same as in past centuries.
A good example is in the 17th century the term cousin was applied to any relative who was not a brother, sister, son or daughter. Sometimes even grandchildren, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles could be called cousins in wills or other legal documents. A stepchild, to us, is the child from a previous marriage. In the 17th century the terms could be referred to as a son-in-law or daughter-in-law. The 17th century also termed brother could mean a church member as well as a family member. A family member called brother could be a brother-in-law or stepbrother. The same is true of father and mother could mean the father-in-law, mother-in-law, stepfather, and stepmother were even the pastor of a church.
The term Mrs. could be referring to a single or married woman. Mistress is a social form of respect in the 17th and 18th century. When reviewing legal documents, check the terms used. Collaborate other relatives in that document to verify if it is a wife, mother, sister, or not a relative at all.
It’s not just terms for relationships. The meaning of words today can be different from centuries past. Occupations, medical diagnosis, the slang of the time, will vary as well. Nicknames: Polly and Molly can be used for several different Christian names. Remember when looking at records to document all names and variations used for your ancestors. That includes census abbreviations such as for Jonathan using the abbreviation Jona with the “a” raised about the name. You may find just the first initial, a different spelling of a name or even no first name or last name noted.
The cat in this image is not a household decoration. It is a useful piece of medical equipment for those bedridden. This cat is a urinal for men. I have seen wicker chairs that look like they have a storage bin under them. That chair is a commode. It blended into the household furniture better than out plastic versions today. The advantages to our version is that sanitary measures are easier to use when cleaning them.
The point of this post is to remind us that over the course of the years, centuries, cultural events and social norms all have an effect on our naming patterns of people, places, things and words as we know them today. Don’t rule out a person as a member of your tree or add them to your tree until you have verified with other documents they are the correct ancestor you will looking for. Take time to see what the terms were for the time period you are researching. Today we call a Black lung – tuberculosis, Bright’s Disease is Poly-cystic Kidneys, and a mechanic was not just always used for automobile repairmen. A mechanic fixed things when they were broken.
Have fun learning new meaning to words.