Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Jaj dates

I had an email yesterday from somebody wanting to know if I could explain the following transcribed date reference in a will from 1775 - “twenty second day of August maryE and seventy five years”. He had explored all sorts of theories about the various queens of Scotland who had gone by the name of Mary, and could not see how these could possibly tie in with the year of 1775.

In fact, what he had come across was a late example of a corruption of the Roman numerals used to denote the hundreds and thousands within a date, which were often recorded in Secretary's Hand in a mutated form, and often referred to as Jaj dates.

The Scottish Handwriting website at has a useful descripton on this:

Initially the part of the date which is one thousand was represented as i m, where i = 1 and m = 1,000. Because a numeral i on its own was often written as j this became jm. Another convention in some hands was to elongate the last minim on an n or an m. Soon what was jm with an elongated last minim became mistaken for jaj.

Although the convention was dying out in the mid 18th century, in the above case for 1775 the letters written would most likely have been jajvijC or possibly imvijC - with jaj or im = 1000, vij (vii) = 7 and C = 100 i.e. 1700, which with missing dots on i's, a less than pointed 'v', the use of a 'j' as a last Roman numeral 'i' (very common), a squiggly C and some very bad handwriting could easily be mistaken for maryE!


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