Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Legal Acre

Farming with a plow in the early days certainly had its troubles. When settlements got to the size that several families shared the land, who was suppose to know what could be planted, were to raise the chickens, were to graze the cattle, slop the pigs, and herd the sheep? Exactly how much land was needed to feed my family?

The farmers of the day came up with a system known as "the legal acre". This was based upon the barleycorn measurements outlined in the last post titled: "Leaps and Bounds". Remember that 3 lengths of the barleycorn defined the "inch". Three inches made a "palmbreath", and 3 palmbreaths made the "foot". The yoke became the next unit of measurement seeing how every farmer had his plow and yoke.

There was 4 feet in the short yoke, 8 feet in the mid-yoke, 12 feet in the armpit yoke, and 16 feet in the long yoke. A "rod" was defined as the long yoke (16 feet) in the caller's hand [the one doing the plowing] with the middle peg of that yoke in his other hand, and as far as he reaches with it with his arm stretch out. This method would set the measurement of the legal acre. The width would be one rod, and the length would be 30 times the rod. Thus, the legal acre was 16 ft. wide by 480 ft. long. [7,680 sq. feet] There was to be 4 such acres in the "toft" (homestead). So there you have it. A family (homestead) had roughly 4 legal acres to make a living. You could plow long rows before you had to turn around!

The measurements are taken from: "Hywel Dda The Law", translated and edited by Dafydd Jenkins, Gomer Press, 1990, p. 121.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Leaps and Bounds

The claim to land ownership was central to the cultural groups that came to our island. The earliest to arrive of course had "first dibs", when they settled and occupied the land. The "open spaces" thus became distinguishable by boundaries, based upon these claims to ownership.

Land ownership initially centered around the family units that occupied, farmed, had their young, grazed their animals upon, and buried their dead within [or upon] the land. Generations evolved that came to expect this land would be passed down to the next generation. Conflicts frequently arose when one member of the family thought they owned, or deserved, a sections of land that another family member claimed. Family feuds would arise creating all sorts of dilemmas for the greater good. Keeping everyone happy was a real challenge. Where are these boundaries anyway? Who is going to make me stay on my side of fence? Who's in charge here? I'll just take it! No one can take it form me! My might makes right!

The family groups that got along together would seem to have a better chance of survival. Frequently, one family member [or several] became the head and judge of these land disputes. [Or other family disputes as well.] His, or their, decision(s) would become the common practice of the family group, thus establishing some sort of order and authority among those living upon the land. If these decisions worked well, they might be adopted by other family groups or passed down to the next generations. Ultimately, a land holding system would be in place allowing for a more stable environment. These decisions, and others, became the common practice of the tribe...the beginnings of "common law".

Now it became evident very early, that one would soon have to figure out a way to measure this land and its boundaries. The farmers seem to have started things off, by using the corn plant that all would have grown and eaten. A kernel of corn held in the hand could be see by all and understood. [Grains of barleycorn were uniformly equal in size!] Three lengths of barleycorn was to equal one inch! Nine barley corn lined up in the palm of the hand was called a "palmbreath", and three "palmbreaths" would equal a foot. There were to be three feet in the step, and three steps in the leap. Three leaps would be called the land. [used as a measurement] A thousand lands in the mile. So 3000 leaps would be a mile! Gee, leaps and bounds! More to come.

These measurements are taken from "Hywel Dda The Law" translated by Dafydd Jenkins, Gomer Press, 1990. pp. 120-122.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Parish Registers

In September, 1538, Henry VIII issued an order to every parish priest. Each parish priest was to start keeping a record of all wedding, christening and burials held in that parish. Each parish was to supply their own register, and could choose their own format in organizing the records. All entries from this point were to be make in Latin, and Welsh was banned from any official record. The Welsh language could be found in place-names, personal names, and occasionally in marginal notes.

For the genealogist, it is important to recognize that the usual dates recorded in these records include the "date of baptism" not birth, the "date of burial", not death, and the "date of marriage".

A detailed account leading up to these ancient parish registers can be found in a text, "Key to The Ancient Parish Registers of England & Wales", by Arthur Meredyth Burke. He describes the social and political response of the times, including of course the worry that this would only serve as a means to "tax" the churches.

What this requirement did do is produce a large number of "clandestine marriages". This is where those who did not agree with the new church organization, or authority, sought marriage outside the parish church. The "nonconformists" they were called. Roman Catholics ("Popery"), Quakers, Jews, Methodists, and other "dissenters" would not count their marriage acceptable under this Church of England. For the genealogist, this will mean that many of these parish records may not record a marriage, even though the family records state one occurred. This may also mean that your family may have been a member of one of these "nonconformists" groups. Certainly, many of these groups came to the shores of the colonies.

The main reference is:

Burke, A.M., Key To The Ancient Parish Registers of England & Wales, Clearfield Co.,Baltimore, MD, 1989. [First published London, 1908, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1962.]

Friday, July 1, 2011


Invaluable is the work done by those who have gone before. Professor Emeritus, Wendy Davies has lead the way in exploring and understanding Welsh history, society, and culture from its earliest days. Dr. Davies (Phd) had done much to piece together what made Wales. The following is an outline of her work which reflects her contribution to Welsh history and genealogy. Her book "Wales in the Early Middle Ages" (Leicester University Press, 1982) gives a very readable account of early Welsh social structure. Her work does much to help those explore and understanding Welsh genealogy.

1. Davies, W., 'The Consecration of Bishops of Llandaff in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries', Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 26 (1974-6) 53-73.

2. Davies, Wendy, An Early Welsh Microcosm: Studies in the Llandaff Charters (London 1978).

3. Davies, W. 'Land and Power in Early Medieval Wales', Past and Present 81 (1978) 3-23.

4. Davies, W. 'The Latin Charter Tradition in Western Britain, Brittany and Ireland in the Early Mediaeval Periond', in Ireland in Early Mediaeval Europe Studies in Memory of Kathleen Hughes, edd. D. Whitelock et al. (Cambridge 1982) pp. 258-80.

5. Davies, W. 'Liber Landavensis'': its Constructions and Credibility', English Historical Review 88 (1973) 335-351.

6. Davies, Wendy 'The Landaff Charters (Aberystwyth 1979).

7. Davies, W. 'St. Mary's, Worcester, and the Liber Landavensis" Journal of the Society of Archivists 4 (1970-3) 459-489.

8. Davies, W. 'The Orthography of Personal Names in the Charters of Liber Landavensis', Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 28 (1978-80) 553-557.

9. Davies, W. 'Unciae: Land Measurement in the Liber Landavensis' Agricultural History Review 21 (1973) 111-121.

10. Davies, Wendy, Wales in the Early Middle Ages (Leicester 1982).

Thanks, Dr. Davies.