Colonial Script is a Lost Art

The task of interpreting the handwriting of our ancestors during the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries can be troublesome. However, cursive writing began to change dramatically during the 20th century, and today has no design to it whatsoever. It is simply a sloppy scribbling of choice. One can use a chart to discern letters in the colonial handwriting, but try and read a 20th-century death certificate! Without structure, then, we seem to be losing our interpretative skills. Hence, the skills of the past are being lost in the 21st century. I personally spend many long hours trying to read the script of yesterday. It is important to me to interpret the old records because those people are my ancestors. They were fluent in Latin, French, and English, and their verbiage and writing styles reflect education and skills far superior to what we have today. If you do not believe me, read the old wills and inventories of the colonial estates which reflect a massive effort of building communities around their farms and promoting a supportive economy of farm stores and trades. Such a reading is helpful in understanding the work which was required to build a new country out of wilderness terrain.

Parker's Ferry on the Meherrin River.

Names of Families in Images of Henderson County Wills 1841 to 1886

The Meherrin Indian Tribes were removed from Virginia in 1706 and settled on a reservation abandoned by the Chowanoke Indians which was located near Parkers Ferry at the mouth of the Meherrin River. Today, this same tribe resides within 10 to 15 miles of the former reservation and is recognized by the State of North Carolina. Hertford County was formed in 1759 from parts of Bertie, Chowan, and Northampton Counties. It was named after the first Earl of Hertford (later the first Marquess of Hertford), Francis Seymour-Conway. In 1779 the northeastern part of Hertford County was combined with parts of Chowan County and Perquimans County to form Gates County. County seat is Winton. The first Will Book of 1829 to 1867 survived with but six legible wills. However, the indexes are somewhat legible, so you can get an idea of the names of all of the first testators.

Hertford County North Carolina Probate Records available to members of North Carolina Pioneers

Images of Hertford County Wills

  • Chambers, Edward
  • Overton, William
  • Pierce, David
  • Rasberry, John
  • Valentine, Samuel

Indexes to Probate Records

  • Wills 1829 to 1867
  • Wills 1829 to 1867, Part 2

Try the North Carolina State Papers

All passengers lists have not been published in books. Actually, there are only a handful of such publications and there yet remains much of this type of work to be published. The National Archives is the place to search for passenger lists and ship manifests (which list the passengers, their ages, and port of origin). Examining these records is a tedious job, but remember that the manifests were frequently given over to the port authorities months after the arrival date. Another place to obtain arrival information is in State Papers. For example, the North Carolina State Papers contain petitions from various vessels loaded with Scots and Irish persons seeking refuge and land in America. One particular instance before the American Revolution included a vessel loaded with the McDonalds and other clans from the Isle of Skye who had been politically aligned with the Stuarts. They were seeking refuge from British persecution. The petition itself in addition to listing many of the passengers explains the date these clans settled and the large tracts of land they received in Moore County, North Carolina. This is the sort of information we want, isn’t it? The historical events and brave struggles of our families.