Friday, December 4, 2015


I found this record where my ancestor is described as "honesta ancilla." I had not ever seen that before, so I thought I'd blog about it.

Here's my transcription:

4 Augustus [1744]
hujus copulatus honestus Georgius Jurassek adolescens colonus ex Ribarzeritz et honesta ancilla Elisabetha Francisci Sperka propria filia ex Starzitz testes Mathias Wesselka ex Chlebowitz a honestus adolescens Joseph Sperka ex Starziz

Here's a translation:

On the 4th of August [1744] were joined in matrimony the honorable young Polish farmer man Georgius Jurassek from Ribarzevitz [?] and the honerable maiden Elisabetha the own daughter of Francisci Sperka of Starzicz. 
Witnesses: Mathias Wesselka of Chlebowitz and the honerable young man Joseph Sperka of Starzicz

I wonder what the person keeping this record meant between the lines when he chose the word "ancilla." This girl was 20 at the time of her marriage, which was actually a little bit young, but definitely not unheard of. A more common marriage age for women in Moravia in the mid 1700's through mid 1800's was 24, the age of maturity. Before this age, women had to have their father's permission to marry. It was also common for young men to be even a bit older, around 25-30.

The age at first marriage for Moravian Czechs seems to decrease towards the end of the 19th century. I think the industrial revolution that came to this area with the 1827 construction of the Vitkovice steel mill had an impact on this statistic. It would be interesting to study that in the future.

For now, I'm wondering what this guy meant by, "ancilla." I haven't seen the writer of this record use that word other places, but it could just be that he decided to use that word because...he did. Edit: as I scanned the surrounding records, I noticed that he uses this word fairly frequently; maybe there isn't a hidden meaning.

I tend to think that there is a layer of meaning that is lost when you translate texts from their first language. The writer of this record, presumably the priest or the priest's clerk, was educated in Latin but let's face it, it wasn't his mother tongue; that was either Czech or German. I think it's more likely that he chose this word because of some additional meaning than because it was just a word hanging out in his vocabulary.

Here are my hypotheses:
  • Elisabetha looked really young, so he described her as an "ancilla"
  • Elisabetha was considered young (20 years, 3 months, and 1 day) at the time of this marriage. He described her as "ancilla" because she had not yet reached the age of maturity
  • The world "ancilla" actually describes Elisabetha's job; she was literally a maid, or in Czech, a děvečka. If this were true, she would have been working under a contract on someone else's farm. Perhaps this job was what put her in contact with a Pole? Not polonus, but colonus!
I don't have any answers. They all seem plausible. 


  1. nice post. I would make only tiny correction to yout transcription. The groom was "colonus", that is farmer.

    honesta ancilla has indeed no hidden meaning. It was one of the standard phrases used in church books for brides. it was used for young and single/unmarried women, while widow would be described as "honesta vidua".
    In some (rare) cases the word honesta could be ommited - when the bride was (visibly) pregnant.
    But usually it was only a phrase.

  2. Thanks Lukáš! Your feedback is appreciated :)