Finding the needle in the haystack

One of the exciting parts about working on this project is the potential it opens up to redefine our knowledge of medieval onomastics, to force us to question origins and etymologies, to find evidence that rejects the received view of certain names.

I have been working on a brief article which will do just that — present new evidence which will force us to revise our views about the origins and historicity of certain names. I don’t want to go into too much detail before the paper has been peer-reviewed and published, but I can share a portion of the story that got us to this point, including a new chapter in the story that unfolded this afternoon.

A few months ago, I found a reference to a name which is one that every baby name book will give you the same origin for — it’s a post-medieval literary invention. So when I found a Latin charter from Germany written in 1256 with an instance of this name, you can be sure I got very excited! But the excitement was tempered with the possibility that my source contained an error, and that the supposed citation for this name was not. The only way to be sure would be to check the original manuscript. So began the process of finding out where the manuscript is located, if, indeed, it is still extant.

The charter occurs in a 19th C edition of charters related to the Teutonic Knights in and around Cologne. Many of the charters in this edition were hand transcribed by the editor, and a list of the original manuscripts consulted is provided at the end of the book. Some, however, the editor took from an earlier edition compiled by someone else, and the charter in question, charter 158, was one such. The source list simply said:

157-160. Gud. 4, 886-888. 2, 440.

The introduction informed me that “Gud.” was an abbreviation for “Gudenus”, and various other searches (many thanks to WorldCat), I determined the Gudenus in question was Valentin Ferdinand von Gudenus, who turns out to have been a very prolific collector and editor of charters in the 18th C. Very prolific. All I knew was that mine occurred in the fourth volume of one of them, without knowing which. And thus began the laborious task of finding every book by Gudenus that I could, and searching for charters from the right date — a true needle in the haystack task, but without even knowing which haystack to look in!

Well, just a little bit ago, I found not only the haystack, but I found the needle. Hennes’s transcription of Gudenus is not in error; Gudenus has the name in the same spelling — BUT with a marginal note that Hennes did not retain. The note? “indubie corrupt.” (undoubtedly corrupted). This is not exactly the news I hoped to find, but it provides a further clue to the story. Next up: Finding out if Gudenus tells us which manuscript he consulted, and then trying to trace it forward 250 years to the present day. The story is not over yet.

1 Comment

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One response to “Finding the needle in the haystack

  1. Go girl! Keep on keeping on! Colm

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