Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dreaming of Medieval Manuscripts: A Genealogical Nightmare

  • [Planta, J.], A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library, Deposited in the British Museum (London, 1802), p. 220.
  • Tite, Colin, The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton's Library: Formation, Cataloguing, Use (London: British Library, 2003), pp. 605-06.
Other than being written primarily in Latin and in an ancient script, their availability, their lack of reliability and lack of any indexing, there is not too much preventing genealogists from using ancient manuscripts to extend their genealogy back into the Dark Ages. However, by examining online family trees, you might get the impression that the current genealogical community was brimming over with medieval specialists.

Just in case you wake up in the middle of the night and have an insatiable urge to delve into this highly specialized area of genealogical research, I thought I would provide a sampling of where you might find some online offerings.

It might take you a while, but you can find a huge number of medieval manuscripts on the website.

This website has over 250,000 images and over 22,000 texts related to medieval documents. Almost all of these, unlike some other online sources, are available for re-use. You will be amazed at the quality of the images and your ability to enlarge and view the images. Here is a sample page.

Vincent de Beauvais , Miroir Historial [ Speculum historiale ], vol. 1, 2, 4 , traduction en français par Jean de Vignay. Miroir historial , vol. 2, Livres IX-XVI. [Paris, BnF, MSS Français 313] | Jean de Vignay (1282?-13..). Traducteur, Vincentius Bellovacensis (1190?-1264). Auteur du texte, Maître de la mort. Enlumineur, Pseudo Perrin Remiet. Enlumineur, and Perrin Remiet. Enlumineur

Most of the museums and larger libraries of Europe participate in providing content to and the website presently has 54,214,141 artworks, artifacts, books, videos and sounds from across Europe.

Some of the countries of Europe are very protective of their collections and subsequently, they limit their online availability and utility. Great Britain claims a Crown Copyright, for example, that applies to a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties". The Crown can also have copyrights assigned to it. There is, in addition, a small class of materials where the Crown claims the right to control reproduction outside normal copyright law due to Letters Patent issued under the royal prerogative. This material includes the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. See Wikipedia: Crown Copyright. Unfortunately, many items kept in the British Library are restricted even where Crown Copyright does not apply. By the way, Great Britain is not at all alone in this practice, many institutions in the United States and elsewhere restrict access to old or even ancient documents for all sorts of reasons, none of which involve enforceable copyright claims.

Here a sampling of other sources of information and content about medieval manuscripts:

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