Monday, January 18, 2010

Amanuensis Monday - the Will of John Norman (1660?-1709?)

Genea-blogger John Newmark (who writes the excellent TransylvanianDutch blog) started his own Monday theme several months ago called Amanuensis Monday. I loved the idea, and recently decided to follow it in order to share ancestral information and keep the theme going, and perhaps it will expand to other genealogy bloggers.

First of all, what does "amanuensis" mean? John offers this definition:

"A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another."

Sounds like a town clerk, a county clerk, or a transcriber of documents, diaries or memoirs. So a genealogist that transcribes historical or personal documents fits. That describes me - I've transcribed a number of wills, a memoir (Aunt Gerry's four audio tapes), and a diary (Della Carringer's 1929 Journal).

Today's amanuensis task is a will transcription that is not easily available at a county clerk or on an FHL microfilm. John Norman (1660-1709?) was the son of Richard and Margaret (Flint) Norman of Marblehead, Essex County, Massachusetts. He married Sarah Maverick (1659?-1723?) in 1683 in Marblehead, and they had eleven children, including my ancestress, Eunice Norman (1686-1743), who married Samuel Rayment (1679-1723).

John Norman of Marblehead died testate, and his estate papers are in the Essex County, Massachusetts, Probate Records in Packet 19,560. However, the probate packet was transferred to the Massachusetts State Judicial Archives, according to a correspondent. I wrote a letter to Elizabeth Bouvier of the Archives in 1998 and received a clear photocopy of the will with a large spot in the center of the page. The will is not available on FHL Microfilm, and no other papers were included in the probate packet according to the inventory in the book: Sanborn, Melinde Lutz. Essex County, Massachusetts Probate Index, 1638-1840. Salem, MA, USA: Essex County, Volume 2, page 654 (index entries, but not complete transcription, available on

The will reads as follows (with paragraph breaks for readability):

"In the Name of God, Amen. The twentie fifth day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred & eight/nine. I, John Norman of Marblehead in the County of Essex in New England carpenter & joyner, being very sick & weak in body, but of perfect mind & memory, thanks be given unto God. Therefor calling to mind the mortality of my body & knowing that it is appointed for men to dye, Do make & ordain this my last will & testament that is to say: principally & first of all, I give & recommend my soul unto the hands of God that give it, hoping through the merits of Death & passion of my Saviour Jesus Christ, to have full & free pardon & forgiveness of all my sins, & to inherit everlasting life. And my body I commit to the earth, to be decently buried at the discretion of my executrix hereafter to be named & nothing doubting but at the General Resurrection I shal receive the same again by the might power of God.

"And as touching such worldly estate wherewith it hath pleased God to bless me in this life. I give, devise & dispose of the same in the following manner & form: that is to say, first I will that all those debts & duties, as I do owe in right or considered to any manner of persons whatsoever, shall be well & truly consented & paid, or ordained to be paid in convenient time after my decease by my executrix hereafter named out of my personal estate & household goods. I [unreadable] & bequeath to Sarah my dearly beloved wife, whom I [unreadable] constitute, make & ordain my only & sole executrix of [unreadable] will and testament all & singular my estate, both real [unreadable] whether of my own in posssession or by inheritance, or any [unreadable] way to me [unreadable] in Lands, messuages & tenements, by her freely [unreadable] & possessed & enjoyed the full time and term, till her youngest child come to the age of eighteen years.

"Item. I will that when my youngest child shall come to the age of eighteen years that then all my estate that remains shall be divided amongst my children or them that legally represent them equally, only my wife for thirds of real to be enjoyed by her during her life, and also my oldest son a double portion.

"Item. I appoint & ordain Mr. Richard Grover & Mr. Eleazer Ingalls overseers of this my last will & testament and that my executrix is to consult & advise with them, & not to sell or alienate any of my said estate without their consent & approbation. And I do hereby utterly disallow, revoke & disannul all & every other former testaments, wills & legacies, bequests & executors by me in any wayes before this time named, willed & bequeathed. Ratifying & Confirming this [unreadable] to be my last will & testament In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand & soul the day & year above written.

....................................................... John Norman"

"Know all men by these presents that I the above named John Norman do hereby establish the above to be my last will & testament and do add with my wife my executrix my son Moses Norman to be joint executor to her, and that they have power in themselfs to sell & alienate & dispose of that piece of land that lying in Salem which I [unreadable] of Joseph Neal (late of Salem) to pay my funeral charges & what they see fit. As witness my hand & seal the twentie fifth day of February 1708/09.

....................................................... John Norman"

"Signed, sealed, published, pronounced & declared by the said John Norman as his last will and testament in presence of us the subscribers. Viz as also the Appendix or revis... was signed, sealed, published & declared to be the sd. John Norman his will & testament. Archd Ferguson, Robert Saskey (?), William Brown."

There is no record of the proving of this will by the Essex Probate Court. Note also that the children of John Norman are not listed in the will above. Fortunately, there were entries in the land records for Essex County MA - to wit (my abstracts):

On 7 March 1720/1, John Norman, fisherman of Marblehead, and Benjamin Norman, cordwainer and fisherman of Marblehead, and sons of John Norman and Sarah Norman, and grandsons of Moses Maverick and Eunice his wife late of Marblehead deceased, sold land in Marblehead to their brother-in-law Samuel Raymond, mariner of Marblehead, for 57 pounds and two shillings. John Norman stated that the land which Samuel Raymond now lives upon, was given to their mother Sarah Norman by their grandparents. The land consisted of five parts, with John Norman having purchased rights from his brother Moses Norman and his sister Sarah Broughton, and having one right to himself and one right to his brother Benjamin Norman. The fifth right belonged to their sister Eunice Norman who married Samuel Raymond. Witnesses to the deed were Archibald Ferguson and John Broughton (Essex County (MA) Deeds, Volume 39, Page 184, recorded 18 March 1720/1, on LDS Microfilm 0,866,031).

On 16 March 1723/4, the natural children of John Norman, late of Marblehead deceased, sold land in Salem to Joseph Neale for 25 shillings each. The children listed were Eunice Raymond of Marblehead, widow, Moses Norman of Boston, mariner, Sarah Broughton wife of John Broughton of Marblehead, John Norman of Marblehead, fisherman, Benjamin Norman of Marblehead, cordwainer, and Elizabeth Norman, singlewoman of Boston. The land was about 15 rods more or less, being 12 feet 4 inches in the front near the main street and 12 feet 4 inches in breadth in the rear bounded westerly with Mr. Kitchen's land, southerly by Mr. Pickering's land, and easterly with Joseph Neale's land. The deed was signed by Benjamin Norman, John Broughton, Sarah Broughton, and Eunice Rayment (Essex County (MA) Deeds, Volume 43, Page 173, recorded 28 March 1724, accessed on FHL Microfilm 0,866,033).

Note that none of the records noted above are available in online databases yet. The Probate Index is available at Land and probate records on FHL microfilms eventually may be imaged and indexed in the FamilySearch Indexing project, but they may be a long time coming. The message here is that all researchers need to use brick-and-mortar repositories - libraries, archives, and FHCs in order to obtain original source documents that prove events and relationships.

How I wish that all ancestors left documents like this! Many beginning genealogists soon learn that documents like these are "golden" - they are original sources, primary information and direct evidence. However, not every person leaves such definitive records. It turns out that documents of this type are "low hanging fruit" in New England - found relatively easily in courthouses or on FHL microfilm. The research challenges in New England are the ancestors that don't leave these fruits to be plucked by eager researchers.


Martin said...

What are the odds that we both posted transcribed wills on the same day?

Chris Klauer said...

Is your John Norman the son of John Norman and Mary Ropes? My ancestor is Clement Thomas Norman who married Abigail Mulberry. When I was in MA in 2003 I found John and Mary Ropes Norman's tombstones. Really enjoy your blog!

GrannyPam said...

I agree, use of original records is essential in deciphering relationships. A child in a household in the 1850 census is not necessarily that of the two adults listed. For that matter, the two adults listed in a household in that census and others, are not necessarily husband and wife.

Keep on pointing out that careful research yields quality results.

Ken Norman said...

Thanks for the post. John Norman is my 7th great granduncle. I was wondering if I could copy your transcriptions into my database (with attribution to you as the transcriber, of course!)? I'm currently trying to sort out some recent DNA results that have shown some of my research to be incorrect. The line in question was ostensibly descended from this John Norman. Now, I'm trying to find the generation where the "disconnect" exists. While the DNA doesn't lie, the paper trail isn't always as forthcoming!

Thanks, and take care,

Ken Norman
NORMAN Surname Y-DNA Project

Randy Seaver said...


Thank you for the contact. Yes, you may copy my transcription to your database with the appropriate attribution. Thank you for asking! (not everyone does...).

Good luck with your DNA project - the paper trail over 10 or 12 generations is often a challenge!

Cheers -- Randy