"This child’s name is William"
April 24, 2015 2:00 PM   Subscribe

The archive of Leiden's Holy Spirit Orphanage holds a small collection of medieval name tags that were pinned to abandoned babies. Written in Middle Dutch on slim slips of paper, they still have visible holes from the pins that fixed the tags to the foundlings.
posted by pleasant_confusion (19 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Happily, the article confirms that the tags were pinned to the foundlings' clothing, not to the foundlings themselves.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:08 PM on April 24, 2015 [17 favorites]


A lot of that handwriting is really beautiful to look at.
posted by brennen at 2:15 PM on April 24, 2015


“My mother gave me an illegal father, which is why I was brought here as a foundling. Keep this note so that they can pick me up again later. I was baptised and born on St Remigius day.”

Amazing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:30 PM on April 24, 2015


“My mother gave me an illegal father, which is why I was brought here as a foundling. Keep this note so that they can pick me up again later. I was baptised and born on St Remigius day.”

This is like the start of a beautiful heart-breaking novel that has yet to be written......
posted by Fizz at 2:34 PM on April 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Simultaneously heart-breaking and life-affirming.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:34 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, these are fascinating, what a find.

I assume the caretakers must have left room after each child's entry in the book perhaps to record if they were reclaimed or moved or even died. I wonder if there were any other entries that recorded the child's fate after they were found? I wonder how closely spaced the entries were in time -- that is, about how often were they receiving new children? I also wonder how often would parents actually manage to reclaim their children, before the children were sent out to e.g. apprenticeships or whatever their next step might be.

I'm also a little surprised that the parents would have been able to write - was writing more widespread than I think, or would they have had someone in the neighborhood who could do it for them?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:03 PM on April 24, 2015


A lot of that handwriting is really beautiful to look at.

It’s related to the handwriting that the sixteenth-century Civilité typefaces were based on.
posted by D.C. at 3:20 PM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Simultaneously heart-breaking and life-affirming.

I'm so inspired I'm going to go out and pin things to babies.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:35 PM on April 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


From a later period: the London Foundling Museum has a collection of eighteenth-century textile tokens left with abandoned babies.
posted by verstegan at 3:39 PM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's freaking me out that the person in the picture is holding paper that old with their bare hands. Skin oils! But, clearly they made it this far.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:43 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


"was writing more widespread than I think"

Yes, in the Netherlands.

"or would they have had someone in the neighborhood who could do it for them?"

I doubt it. I believe the paper was from one source, making a neighbor unlikely to have the access to same.
posted by clavdivs at 4:43 PM on April 24, 2015


It's freaking me out that the person in the picture is holding paper that old with their bare hands. Skin oils! But, clearly they made it this far.

This is actually standard practice in many libraries and archives, so long as your hands are clean and dry. Wearing gloves reduces your dexterity making it more likely you'll do something the parchment or paper doesn't like and tear it, plus gloves aren't necessarily cleaner than hands.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 5:21 PM on April 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


They still have the holes? I am puzzled. What is that meant to mean? Of course they have the holes. Why wouldn't they have the holes? The holes aren't go to grow over. It's paper. It can't heal. I don't get it.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:30 PM on April 24, 2015


They still have the holes? I am puzzled. What is that meant to mean? Of course they have the holes. Why wouldn't they have the holes? The holes aren't go to grow over. It's paper. It can't heal. I don't get it.

I read that as a clumsy expression of how the slips have been permanently and poignantly marked by their use.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:50 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


They still have the holes? I am puzzled....Of course they have the holes.

Yes, of course, they do. I think the holes are worth mentioning though because they are so evocative-more than the writing- of the people who pinned them on so long ago. They show the movement.

I am reminded of the oil painting I saw at the Getty once -something ridiculously old and famous-that included a moon. In the center of the full moon was a mark from the point of the compass that the artist used to draw the circle. That is the only thing I remember about it, that little hole. It was as if I could see how he worked.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:53 PM on April 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


LobsterMitten: " I also wonder how often would parents actually manage to reclaim their children"

I think pretty rarely, based on other work done on orphanages of the period.

In (what is now) the UK, orphanages also have in their records of foundlings pieces of fabric that a woman cut from her skirt and pinned to the baby or tied around his wrist (oh, verstegan beat me!), in the hopes of later identifying the child; and various bits of pewter trumpery often sold at pilgrimage locations. The hope was you could say, "Hey, in 1392 I left a child with you, and he had a shell from St. James's monastery pinned to his dress." But sadly few women or relatives ever returned for those children -- even just high death rates for young women made it unlikely, before we address the sorts of issues that would make giving a baby to an orphanage the best option.

Both the fabric scraps and the bits of jewelry persisted well into the 20th century at orphanages in the UK, as alternatives to written notes (although written notes increase in popularity as more people get literate).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:54 PM on April 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Or, yeah, what dipflash said.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:54 PM on April 24, 2015


That slideshow is really evocative, but is there good reading somewhere on the bits-of-fabric thing? Like obviously this was a whole thing...

::googles::

There's this, which is pretty fascinating.
posted by brennen at 10:19 PM on April 24, 2015


Still, alongside so many cases of heartless desertion

I'm uncomfortable with the idea of heartless desertion being applied to "so many" cases since it's likely the babies only survived because they were turned over to the orphanages. Many women died in childbirth and poverty destroyed any hope of being able to raise a child for "so many" others. There was no child support for a woman who got pregnant, whether the man was married or not, whether the pregnancy was from rape or incest, from prostitution or condom failure - the woman was on her own. Infants turned over to orphanages in rags were likely in rags because that's all the mother had available due to dire poverty. Vermin also are part of the world of the desperately poor. The image of a poor woman cutting a hole in her dress so she could send it with her child is heart-wrenching.

My eyes are damp - I want to read the entire logs of the orphanages - thank you for posting this and thanks also brennen. Very moving.
posted by aryma at 11:15 PM on April 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


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