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While doing some indexing as part of the FamilySearch Indexing project recently, I came across the following name: Williã

To me it was a no-brainer that the name was William, but I suspect most people might have been inclined to mistake the tilde for a stray mark. However, the mark was no stray. The name Williã occurred 3 times on the image I was indexing, each time with a tilde over the a. The reason why I knew what it meant was because of the two years I spent in Portugal. Over there, (as well as in Brazil and other Portuguese speaking countries) the tilde is a very common mark. It is used as an accent mark which nasalizes a vowel/diphthong.

Since I was in Portugal, I had the opportunity to visit a lot of the old castles and read the old inscriptions, where I learned that the tilde was once a very common shorthand for indicating that a nasal consonant (m/n) was to follow. So, instead of writing "verano" (as you might find in modern Spanish), they would write "verão", but the pronunciation would have been the same as if they had opted to write "verano". I don't know how they pronounced it, but I always imagine the 'n' being very distinct. (I have recently noted that in French, the 'n' is still written, but is often very indistinct and has the effect of nasalizing the preceding vowel sound, having much the same effect as the current Portuguese tilde accent mark.) In such inscriptions you would often find this abbreviation used almost anywhere where there might be an 'm' or 'n'. However, nowadays the Portuguese only use the tilde in specific words and it is not considered a short-hand... that's just how the word is spelled.

I always thought of this as a purely Portuguese convention, so I was surprised to see the convention so clearly manifest in Essex during the late 1500's.

I was reminded of another similar short-hand that I'd come across a year or two ago in US census records of the mid-1800's. (was it Arkansas?) In this case I was trying to search for a Helen Cason who for a long time had been dodging me. I finally found a likely candidate in the 1880 census living as a niece of one John LeBass. So working with this, I set out to see how John LeBass might connect to the Cason Family. In my searching I came across what at first appeared to be a John Labop. However, the match was too good in other respects and what I quickly realized was that I was seeing an example of an old convention for writing the 'S', especially as part of a double-s. To be precise, there once used nto be two forms of the lower-case 's'. One was the form we are all accustomed to using today, but the other looked almost exactly like an lower-case 'f', so much so, in fact, that I've always had an extremely hard time telling the two apart. I was mainly accustomed to seeing the style in much older documents, but here it was. The funny f-looking 's' was used in different ways by different writers, but it would seem that the Germans eventually settled on using the f-looking 's' as the first 's' whenever two were required. This is the origin of the essetz, which is a funny combination of the two characters that looks like a capital 'B' with an open bottom: ß.

Anyhow, as it turned out, both the Cason's and the LeBass's had married into the Frost family. John's wife Volumnia Frost was the half-sister of Helen's mother, Mary Frost, and Helen had gone to live with her aunt and uncle after the apparent death of her own mother and father. The orthography, however, was the icing on the cake for me.



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