Monday, February 21, 2011

Not so Amanuensis Monday

Most Wednesdays on this blog I post a photograph for “Wordless Wednesday” but I find I am unable to not write a long story about it, so over the past year it has developed in to “Not So Wordless Wednesday” here at Nutfield Genealogy. Today's post is usually developed to fit into the Amanuenis Monday meme, but it would also be appropriate for the "Madness Monday" or "Mystery Monday" blogging memes.

This document has rendered me speechless, and also “transcription less”. I am not fluent in Spanish, and even my native Spanish speaking husband is unable to transcribe this. At the Spanish National Archives website we searched for the surname Rojo and the names of some of the villages near Aranda de Duero, in the province of Burgos, Spain where his ancestors lived. When we received a hit, we were initially excited, but then flabbergasted when we saw this document.

Our only solace is that this is not unusual for a document from Spain. Scribes purposefully made their handwriting illegible so as to preserve their jobs. Only they could transcribe or read back their own documents, thus ensuring they wouldn't be dismissed. Job security. Also "a scribe’s handwriting style was registered with the Royal Chancellery, and a copy of each scribe’s scribal signature and handwriting was kept on file and used to “verify” documents written and authorized by that particular scribe" [from Papal Bulls, Expirtadors, and the Madrid Codex, by John F. Chuchiak, page 67 at the website ]

However, five hundred years later we are struggling to read this post Visigothic script (a secretary style called Cortesana or Procesal?). According to the Spanish National Archives it describes a Jew and a Converso with the surname Rojo, and a lawsuit over some oxen in the village of Peñaranda. It is dated 1491.

Can anyone help?

Source: Reclamación de unos bueyes que le prendaron a Mahir Corcoz, judío de Peñaranda. Archivo General de Simancas RGS. LEG.149103.506 via the website Portal de Archives Españoles for the National Archives of Spain

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I can't help, but would love to learn more about your research in Spain. Is your husband descended from Sephardic Jews? My husband's great grandmother's maiden name was Ponce and we are on the hunt for her family's origin.

  2. Jen, this is a long story but we think he is descended from Jews. His initial DNA tests came up with the J1 haplogroup that matched the Cohanim markers. His father's village had a large juderia (Jewish Quarter) before the 1500s. After a more detailed DNA test we should have some more answers. In the meantime we have traced the family back to the early 1700s, which is not far enough to come up with any real answers. I suppose there may have been some Crypto Jews in the family because there are generations of Benjamins, Samuels and Rebeccas (which are not usual Spanish names). Even his grandfather was named Moses, which was very unusual in the 20th century! You can click on the "Spain" links in the right column to see some posts on research in Spain.

  3. I can't help with the document but it does look a bit like Scottish secretary hand. How interesting that the scribes changed their handwriting so no one else could read it. I hope someone can help! Jo

  4. Can you post a higher-res image? I can't zoom in enough to do any good at all.

  5. Ben, this is the largest image I have from the Archives website. I supposed I should order a copy from the Spanish government and obtain permission to publish a full copy on line. See my post from Dec. 2010 on what a hassle this was from Hawaii! If I knew for sure it was an ancestor this would be a different story

  6. Ouch. Not all archives place such restrictions on use of "their" images, but I don't know how Spanish/EU law on digitized PD images works. I ran into some similar ambiguities to your Hawaii one when dealing with a library at UVA, but fortunately was able to use the images as I wanted.

  7. I enjoyed reading it. I'm supposed to be somewhere else in a minute but I stuck to reading the story. I like the quality of your blog :D

  8. El texto es ilegible, pero según explica en el resumen sería:
    "Carta a petición de Alonso, el rojo, vecino de la villa de Coruña, sobre unos bueyes que le prendaron por usura de Mahir Corcoz, judío de Peñaranda, por la deuda que con éste tenía Pedro Martínez de Castañeda, que estuvo casado en primeras nupcias con su mujer. Se hace mención a la ley de Cortes de Toledo de 1480, que trata de ésto.-Condestable y Consejo."
    Osea el judio sería Mahir Corcoz, no Alonso Rojo.
    En éste estudio sobre los judios en la Diocesis de Osma, no se menciona ningún converso judio de apellido Rojo

    1. Translation of the comment above:

      The text is illegible but the summary explains that:
      Letter as a petition of Alonso, the red, neighbor of the villa of Coruna, with regards to some oxen that they took for usury from Mahir Corcos, jew of Penaranda, for the debt that he had with Pedro Martinez de Castaneda, who was married in first nuptials with his wife. There is mention of the law of the courts of Toledo or 1480, which deals with this. Condestable Y consejo.

      So the jew must have been Mahir Corcoz, not Alonso Rojo

      In this study of the jews of the dioceses of Osma there no mention of any converso jew with the last name of Rojo

    2. We have found several Jewish people in the documents of Aranda de Duero, including old census records, with the surname Rojo. These books are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

    3. Me encantaría ver esos documentos. ¿seria posible?. Tengo una teoría sobre la discursión y quisiera reafirmarla o negarla. Ruego no se enfade, tan solo pretendo ayudarla. De entrada le digo que interpretar unos textos en castellano del siglo XV, es muy complicado, no solo por la grafia , si no por la diferencia entre el castellano actual y el antiguo.-
      Un saludo yruego me disculpe.