Exploring this Web Resource
High-speed Internet is recommended for best viewing. If you have dial-up, you'll be able to access the text-based parts of this Website easily, but the digitized image files for each document take up a lot of space, and will be some time loading. Your local library, museum or community C@P Site may offer broadband access for the public.
We've used Zoomify© to enhance your ability to explore every document presented within this Website. You'll need to download the free software Adobe Flash (quick-and-easy, done from the link on the Easson home page or at the bottom of every page presenting an individual document). Once you've got the software installed, you'll be able to zoom in-and-out, up-and-down, and all around the digitized documents — this will help you to decipher the handwriting and experience the original records as rich documentary heritage.
Exploring the Documents ~ Viewing Options
When we approached organizing the documents presented on this Website, we wanted to enable visitors to access them from several different directions. Two separate and unique sets of records were digitized to tell the story of 'The Eassons and the Hoyts' – 1) the Easson family fonds; and 2) the Easson-Hoyt collection.
One of the first things archivists learn is to maintain the original order of documents, and not to destroy their integrity by mixing one set of records together with another — unless this is done 'artificially' for a specific purpose, and unless the archivist makes it clear what has been done and why. We've followed these rules very carefully; but we've also used the potential presented by database technology to bend them a little; and along the way, we've encountered some of the limitations of database technology as well!
The Menu Bar on the home page gives several options for viewing the documents:
1) If you click on 'Easson and Easson-Hoyt records', you'll get a combined return of 1237 documents, displayed online in the numerical order assigned to the documents when they were first catalogued, and reflecting the fact that the original records are housed in 3 separate boxes. This means that you'll see items from the Easson family fonds first — 289 documents with a reference identifier 'A', displayed from earliest to latest record, followed by 820 documents with a reference identifier 'B', again displayed from earliest to latest record; then the Easson-Hoyt material, 121 documents with a reference identifier 'H', and again from earliest to latest record. What we couldn't do at the Search Box level was get the database to integrate all three boxes of documents and return them in full chronological order. However, inside the set of returns we were able to present, at the top of each page, options for sorting by date (chronological order) or by reference number (numerical order). Confused? So were we at times...! Try the options and explore for yourself.
2) If you click on 'Easson records MG 1 vol. 3478 A and B', you'll get all the documents in the two boxes of Easson family fonds. Inside this set of returns and as described above, you'll also be able to choose between the options of viewing them in chronological order or by reference number.
3) If you click on 'Easson-Hoyt records MG 1 vol. 2166 H', you'll get all 121 documents in the third box, i.e. the Easson-Hoyt collection. These are records that provide: a) critical missing pieces to the Easson story, especially for the early period; and b) the separate but interlocking story of the Hoyt family in Nova Scotia. Inside this set of returns and as described above, you'll also be able to choose between the options of viewing them in chronological order or by reference number.
So — which route is best? We suggest Option Number 1, 'Easson and Easson-Hoyt records'; and when they're returned, click on 'Sort by Date'. That way, you'll be able to explore the two interlocking stories in chronological order, and experience the incredible richness of the documentary record left by these two intertwined Nova Scotia families.
Exploring the Documents ~ Language, Handwriting and Spelling
Many of these documents are 250 to 300 years old — don't expect reading them to be completely easy! Once you 'get the hang of it', however, you'll be drawn into the world that these very ordinary Nova Scotians lived in — a world that is now very far-off in time, and inaccessible to most of us except through products like this Website.
The language, handwriting and spelling in these digitized records can be challenging. As a result, we have provided transcripts for 185 of the more interesting and/or important documents; in each instance the transcript appears on a new page and is displayed above the digitized original, so that you can compare the two. The transcriptions do not correct spelling or explain meaning; instead, they are available to circumvent the mysteries of handwriting. The easiest way to access them is by clicking the 'Items with Transcripts' button on the home page.
When you look at the digitized originals, you'll quickly discover that the language is strange, quirky, very formal, and expressed in ways that make it difficult to follow the sequence and meaning of the sentences, or to follow and understand the simplest of transactions.
As for individual words and phrases, have a good dictionary nearby – or Google them! A few examples:
- 'ye' or 'ye' = old form of the word 'the'
- 'artificer' = a skilled worker or craftsman (in John Easson's case, a 'master carpenter')
- 'cordwainer' = shoemaker
- 'osnaburg' = a heavy, coarse-grained fabric, often used for grain sacks
- 'saleratus' = sodium or potassium bicarbonate (i.e. baking powder)
- 'turning a dress' = clothing was expensive; when a dress became worn and frayed, a seamstress turned it inside out and refinished it, perhaps with new buttons and trim, thus enabling twice-the-wear for little additional cost
Handwriting then is like handwriting now — some is easy to read... and some isn't! This may be a reflection of the letter-writer's level of education, but not always. In Nova Scotia there was no public access to even rudimentary learning (reading, writing and arithmetic) until the Free School Act of 1864. The Easson children in each generation, however, received good private schooling (you'll see how much this cost their fathers and mothers by exploring the invoices submitted by local schoolmasters) — but the results didn't always translate to their handwriting, or their linguistic ability with the written word.
One quirk in the handwriting and printed documents that you'll encounter immediately is the strange-looking 'long s' — ∫ — that looks a little like an ƒ, and is used alone in the middle of words (the 1734 printed indenture to John Easson - 'Ma∫ter Capenter') or in combination with a second, normal-looking 'short s' (John Easson's own very fine signature - 'John Eaƒson'). The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines the 'long s' as: 'a lower-case form of the letter s, written or printed ∫; not in general use after the early nineteenth century.'
Spelling did not become standardized until even later — the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; so don't be alarmed — you'll see every variant spelling imaginable for almost any given word in the documents displayed on this Website.Surname spellings are notoriously difficult to regularize. The Eassons themselves were consistent — they always signed 'Easson' — but it was frequently written as 'Eason' or 'Easton' by others. In the Surname Index, we've worked around the general confusion regarding surnames by enabling you to scroll through and click on all the variant spellings we've encountered in working with the documents.
Exploring the Documents ~ How can I use them in my own research?
Doing community history? Use the Search Box, the Community Index and the Historical Maps to explore how the Eassons, the Hoyts and their friends and neighbours interacted with the communities in which they lived — and how these communities grew and changed over time.
Studying costume design? Use the Search Box or browse the Website generally, to identify invoices listing exactly what was purchased and paid for dressmaking work, including different fabrics, yardage required, and the cost of fabric, buttons, ribbons, thread and other sewing notions.
Interested in the cost of basic goods and services? Use the Search Box or browse the Website generally to find, for example, invoices for the cost of shoes and shoe repairs over many years, and for schooling the Easson children.
Wondering about the process of building a house 200 years ago? Use the Search Box or browse the Website generally, to locate specific items like nails, lumber and shingles, with accompanying prices. You can also read the complete list of building materials and the sequential procedure followed in construction of Alexander Easson's house at Lequille – begun in 1799 and still standing.
Studying material history? Use the Search Box or browse the Website generally, to locate invoices for the purchase of household goods, foodstuffs, furniture, farm equipment, etc. The Eassons appear to have saved every purchase invoice or grocery receipt they ever received!