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The History Detective: Story of George Burdett

By John Arnold
Choosing our trail

Image of entry about Mrs Burdett
Yarmouth Assembly Book, 1635. The entry on Mrs Burdett's annuity is top, right.  ©
Before we do anything with this starting point, we need to be sure we understand it properly. The source itself is hand-written, in a style rather different from our own.

Some of the long, looping letters are familiar, but an 's' often looks more like an 'f', and an 'r' like a 'w'. There are also several abbreviations, where the scribe has not written out the entire word but contracted it.

For example, 'which' is written as 'wch', and 'Chamlines' (with a line above it) stands in for 'Chamberlines' - or, as we would spell it, 'chamberlains'. Other oddities in spelling are fairly easy to decipher - 'hir' for 'her', 'soe' for 'so', 'quarterlie' for 'quarterly'.

'... why did he go to America, leaving his wife and children?'

Having deciphered what the source says, are we clear about what it means? 'New England' then, as now, indicates the east coast of America, which was being colonised at the time. 'Marks' were an archaic form of English currency, and 20 marks was a reasonably large amount. 'St Michael next' means 'the next feast of St Michael', or Michaelmas (29 September).

So the overall meaning should be clear - the Yarmouth Assembly agrees to give Mrs Burdett 20 marks each year, as her husband has left her and gone to America.

So having considered our first piece in the jigsaw, where shall we look now? Immediately we have to make some choices. We could decide to explore charity in Yarmouth, and therefore we might want to look for other occasions on which the Assembly gave annuities.

We might be interested in the civic government of the town, and thus read the rest of the Assembly books to see what other kinds of things they discussed and decided. We perhaps want to know what happened to Mrs Burdett, and so would need to search for her name in other Yarmouth records.

Or we might decide to try to find out what happened to Mr Burdett. Why did he go to America, leaving his wife and children? What happened to him when he got there? This is the trail that we're going to follow ...

Image of the Yarmouth Assembly Book showing the entry about Mrs Burdett
Yarmouth Assembly Book, 1635, showing the entry recording Mrs Burdett's annuity ©

Published: 2005-01-28

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