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Q: Occupation, genealogy ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Occupation, genealogy
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: camron-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 07 Dec 2004 17:26 PST
Expires: 06 Jan 2005 17:26 PST
Question ID: 439618
What is the meaning of Auntiant? It is listed as an occupation on a
census record and as a coat of arms discription, however I can not find
what it means anywhere.

Clarification of Question by camron-ga on 07 Dec 2004 17:28 PST
Occupation, genealogy, Auntiant?
Subject: Re: Occupation, genealogy
Answered By: leli-ga on 08 Dec 2004 04:29 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello camron

"Auntiant" is an old spelling of "ancient", and "ancient" used to mean "ensign".

So the occupation of "auntiant" was the same as "ensign", a junior
officer similar to a lieutenant.

In a description of a coat of arms it is possible that "auntiant" is
simply an alternative spelling for "ancient" in its familiar meaning
of "very old" or "with a long history", as here:

"'It was in the year 1528 [?] that the first Sussex Heraldic
Visitation was made to Rotherfield, by which we learn what were the
arms borne by the Alchornes. The Herald went on to say: ?the manner of
Alchorne lyeth in Retherffeld in Sussex, and in the Church is the
Auntiant Coate of Alchorne.?'"

Ancient/ensign can also refer to a banner or flag. In fact, military
ensigns (lieutenants) used to carry the ensigns (flags) belonging to
their regiment.

In heraldry, an ensign is the picture on the top of the coat of arms
where there is often a crown or other indicator of someone's rank:
"the ornament or sign, such as the crown, coronet or mitre borne above
the charge or [coat of] arms." It can also mean "a distinguishing
token, emblem or badge such as symbols of office", and sometimes it
just means the main sign or picture on a shield.

"ENSIGN (through the Fr. enseigne from the Latin plural insignia), a
distinguishing token, emblem or badge such as symbols of office, or in
heraldry, the ornament or sign, such as the crown, coronet or mitre
borne above the charge or arms. The word is more particularly used of
a military or naval standard or banner.
. . . 
Until 1871 the lowest grade of commissioned officers in infantry
regiments of the British army had the title of ensign (now replaced by
that of second lieutenant). It is the duty of the officers of this
rank to carry the colors of the regiment . . . . In the 16th century
ensign was corrupted into " ancient," and was used in the two senses
of a banner and the bearer of the banner."

English spelling used to be very variable with some words having many
different alternatives. Unfortunately there are very few examples of
"auntiant" online, but I did find "auntient" and "aunciant" with the
meaning of lieutenant. Here are some scraps from Shakespeare to
illustrate this:

"Togither with Auntient Pistoll."
"Together with Ancient Pistoll. "

"come, Lieutenant Pistol"

"Aunciant, what makes he heere?"

"Ancient, what makes he here?"

""ancient" meant "ensign" in Elizabethan English"

English settlers in North America used the word in a similar way. For
example,  this military man writes:

"My Aunchiant & servante have seene in trade at one tyme 40 greate
Canowes laden wth these commodities."

Once you know that there is this surprising relationship between
"ancient" and "ensign", as well as multiple meanings for "ensign", and
numerous spelling variations for "ancient", things should start to
make more sense.

Below I've given a few more excerpts and links which I came across
while searching for examples to illustrate my answer.

I hope this clears things up, but please feel free to say if you still
have a query about "auntiant". If you do need something clarified,
please could you give more detail about the places and dates involved
in your research?

Best wishes - Leli

From Pimbley's Dictionary of Heraldry:
"Ensign - To distinguish by a mark or ornament, such as a crown,
coronet, mitre, etc. A bishop, for instance, ensigns his arms with a
"Ancient (Anshent) - The guidon used at funerals. A small flag ending in a point."

"In time, the knights and chiefs had devices on their shields which
represented their prowess and were significant of their family names
or places of residence. These devices or symbols served as an ensign
that could be seen in battle and were well known by their followers.
Sometimes surcoats made of leather or cloth were worn over their armor
to protect the wearer from the sun. The devices that had been painted
on the shields were reproduced on the surcoats or overgarment. Thus
the term cote armure or coat-of-arms came into being."

"Until 1871 the lowest grade of commissioned officers in infantry
regiments of the British army had the title of ensign (now replaced by
that of Second Lieutenant). It is the duty of the officers of this
rank to carry the colours of the regiment. In the 16th century
"ensign" was corrupted into "ancient," and was used in the two senses
of a banner and the bearer of the banner."








Request for Answer Clarification by camron-ga on 08 Dec 2004 15:16 PST
Hello leli

Great answers. I suspected it might mean ancient. 
The 1881 census for Southowram, York, England,lists Mary McDonald,
Born Ireland, married female, age 54, occupation - Auntiant.

Piece/Folio #4398 / 13 page 22
Family History Library Film #1342051.

I don't believe they had female Ensigns in 1881. I could be wrong and
at 54 she wouldn't be ancient so I'm still at a bit of a lose.

I haven't recieved a copy of the orginal so I can't check out the hand writing.


Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 09 Dec 2004 04:06 PST
Hello Kelly

I'm pretty sure this means "senior citizen" though there's not much
online to prove it once and for all. I know Mary McDonald was only 54,
but remember how much faster people aged in the 19th century, when a
woman clearly past her child-bearing years was considered elderly.

"Ancient" (as an adjective) was regularly used, in parish records for
instance, to denote someone's place in a community. It suggested
someone elderly who had no particular occupation.

Until the 17th century, "ancient" had a distinct meaning of senior or
even venerable (see the Oxford English Dictionary) and a touch of that
respect lingered on in some contexts.  "Ancient widow" didn't just
mean "incredibly old widow" as it would today.

"My principal guide and privy-counsellor was my good ancient widow,
who, in gratitude for the money I had sent her, thought no pains too
much nor care too great to employ for me; and I trusted her so
entirely that I was perfectly easy as to the security of my effects;
and, indeed, I was very happy from the beginning, and now to the end,
in the unspotted integrity of this good gentlewoman."
from "Robinson Crusoe" - Defoe - 1719

These links may be relevant:

"The burials register of the times also records occupations . . .
thatcher, mason, poor woman, carpenter, farmer, weaver, labourer,
miller, clerk, taylor, poor maid, aged poor widow, aged householder,
infant, ancient widow, married man, ancient householder, travelling
woman?s infant."

Genealogical info from Northern England

You might want to consult people with specialist knowledge of
nineteenth century Yorkshire.

York City Archives look like a good source of information:

Calderdale library is nearer to Southowram and has a local history section:

Or look at:

Local history - Yorkshire

Yorkshire local history

Hope that helps! 

Good luck with your genealogical research - Leli
camron-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Well stated, well researched.

Subject: Re: Occupation, genealogy
From: fp-ga on 07 Dec 2004 22:17 PST
When and where did this person live?

A comparison with the original handwritten entry could be helpful.

Is this census entry on a website, such as
or / ?
Subject: Re: Occupation, genealogy
From: fp-ga on 09 Dec 2004 02:02 PST
The household of Mary McDonald as mentioned in the 1881 census:

The handwriting can be checked on (subscription required)

Apparently, "Mary Mc Donald" is the only "Auntiant" in the 1881 census.

When did Mary Mc Donald die? I could try to look for her in the 1891
and 1901 censuses.
Subject: Re: Occupation, genealogy
From: fp-ga on 09 Dec 2004 02:48 PST
Clarifying my previous comment:

I did check the handwritten entry of the 1881 census as it is provided on

In my view there is no other possibility than reading "Auntiant".
Subject: Re: Occupation, genealogy
From: leli-ga on 09 Dec 2004 10:30 PST
Kelly, many thanks for the stars and nice comment!

(I should also thank fp for his contributions - helpful as ever.)

The census entry fp found reminds me how many Irish people came to
Yorkshire to work in the woollen mills. I can imagine they would want
or need to retire from the hard work and long hours well before the
age of 54.


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