Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's in the genes

One of the things I've always been interested in is family and local history.

I really like to know all I can learn about the people who came before me. They don't have to have been related to me. But I'm interested in what makes people tick, why they do what they do (or did what they did) and all that that entails.

Recently I've been tracking a bunch of 17th and 18th century people all over Dartmoor, trying to sort them out. I have a surfeit of Sopers and more Gregory Sopers than you can shake a stick at. While "the name's the same" doesn't make the one man out of two or three, it's tricky trying to figure out which is which.

What are the subtle differences in who they are and how they live their lives that makes one Gregory different from another one in the same parish?

That's been the question I've wrestled with all week (when I wasn't doing revisions and chopping ice and shoveling snow).

In trying to sort them out (it's rather like doing a puzzle) I ran across a will from a Henry Soper in 1698 leaving his son Gregory the "justment by the name of Burches" with a lot of tacked on bits about who had to die before he would actually have a right to it.

And I found myself asking, "What's a justment?" And after a day and a half of research and some judicious questioning of my husband's cousin, a lawyer as well a family historian, I think I've got a grip on it.

"Justment" comes from the more ancient term "agistment." In ancient law it meant to take in and give feed to the cattle of strangers in the King's forest, and to collect the money due for the same to the king's use. In modern law it means to take in cattle to feed, or pasture, at a certain rate of compensation.

It has to do with more than land. It's an occupation.

My husband's cousin asked, "Do you understand what it means?"

I said, "Yep. He was a cowboy."



Blogger Madeline said...

Yep! It definitely sounds like a cowboy to me too.

07 December, 2007  
Blogger Kate Walker said...

Well, that figures . . .

07 December, 2007  
Blogger Michelle Styles said...

Well at least you know come by it honestly!

Hooray for your cowboy genes.

09 December, 2007  

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