Are contemporary fair copies better than originals?

+3 votes
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It is a luxury to have primary sources. It is an even greater luxury to have duplicate primary sources, but that luxury is often available in Cape church registers, of which fair copies were sent in to the Ring (presbytery). Some older congregations made such fair copies even before the Ring system was introduced.

Reasons for preferring the original:

  1. It was produced a little earlier, therefore more closely to the actual time of the event, than the copy.
  2. Errors and omissions may have been introduced by the act of copying.

Reasons for preferring the copy:

  1. Being more legible, it demands less interpretation.
  2. Mistakes could be corrected silently and not backported to the original.

So what are we to do when the two sources fail to agree? Always follow the source deemed to be the original? Always follow the source deemed to be a fair copy?

A case in point is Tulbagh, first half of March 1816. (BTW, this research was made a pleasure by Cornel Viljoen's catalogue.) There is no internal evidence on the date of composition of the original and the copy — in fact, subtle hints involving the evolution of handwriting need to be taken into account to make that distinction — but it seems safe to say that that the copy was made no later than the 19th century. They differ in several aspects.
  1. Some names are spelled differently, including a substantially different LNAB (Cilliers vs Silje).
  2. Different squiggles appear on the letter "u". Since this page deals with births after 1806, we can ignore the squiggles — but in the Dutch Cape Colony project, a distinction in LNAB would be made between Dú Toit, Dù Toit, Dū Toit etc.
  3. The copy in many cases also has the baptism date in modern notation and a different hand,

The first of these differences is fundamental. It is not a copying error. It is a deliberate correction by the somewhat later scribe. If such a correction had been made in the original register by crossing out the offending letters and substituting others, we would have no qualms in accepting it.

So what are we to do when the two sources differ deliberately? Prefer the one that seems to be closer to current project policy? Use our own discretion?

in Policy and Style by Dirk Laurie G2G6 Mach 3 (35.7k points)

1 Answer

+3 votes
Hi Dirk,

Use the original. The copies that differ is most probably the interpretation of the transcriber at the time. If it was an official correction, the correction would have been made to the original register as well.
by Louis Heyman G2G6 Mach 7 (70.6k points)

This is how one book starts off, and this is the other. They look equally formal. The difference in handwriting and spelling may simply be that between an older and a younger person, someone who went to school in the 1750s and someone who went to school in the 1780s.

The difference is not necessarily unofficial. The earlier book may have been kept by the koster (verger), the other by the scriba. They may have been written a matter of days apart, the verger entering the details on Sunday and the scriba making the fair copy when the work week starts.

The scriba's book would have been the official one, used whenever a request for a doopseel (extract from the baptism register) was to be made, since the scriba is the person charged with that duty.

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