As our vast lexicon expands to include new words such as ‘upspeak’ and ‘emoji’ so it also contracts and any person researching their ancestors has to familiarise themselves with words no longer in everyday use. This struck me the other day when I was searching through the baptismal registers for a Tipperary parish in the 1820s. The priest or clerk entered quite a large number of children as the ‘natural’ son or daughter. This term had long been in use, Esther Johnson (1681-1728), Swift’s ‘Stella’, was in her lifetime described as the ‘natural daughter of Sir William Temple’; the word ‘natural’ was used to describe a child born out of wedlock, also an archaic term derived from Old English. In marriage certificates we frequently see the bride and groom described as of ‘full age’; this simply means that they were twenty-one years or over. In 19th century death certificates many died from ‘apoplexy’ when we would be more familiar with the term ‘stroke’. There are a long list of occupations no longer used including one that I came across recently in an English census form, that of an ‘accoucheur’ – a male midwife. I wonder what will have happened to ‘computer programmer’ and ‘IT consultant’ in a hundred years?
By Research Expert,