Abbreviated titles in census - misidentified subject by 3rd party

In the 1810 census for Natchitoches Parish, La., we find a single woman as a head of household who appears to be identified as Madam (abbreviated) Spade.  Note what appears to be the lower case w appearing after the abbreviation and before her surname Spade.  Note that only females live in this house.  This record is from a USGenweb project file, but I have also reviewed National Archives records and noted that on the page or two immediately preceding this one, the census taker called another single woman Madam with the lower case w following the abbreviation.  I know of personal knowledge that her husband and family were in a rental house belonging to John Sibley from my past experience in reading his personal journals, and that the spouse of this woman was deceased in 1810.  I can no longer locate that journal, unfortunately, and should have made an effort to document that information then, but didn't.  In any case, when one performs a global search for this family on Ancestry, the synopsis page for the census bearing her name appears, with some noted confusion about who she is.  A third party has added a notation to this page identifying her as someone she may very well not be, and I have my doubts about the note added by this third party.  In a polite way, I'd like to add to my tree on Ancestry not only the NA record, this page reproduced here, but the Ancestry noted page as well, along with my own comments.  However, for other researchers, and there are many, also looking for this woman and attempting to determine her identity, I feel that the added comment creates not only confusion about her identity, but about what appears to me to be a title assigned to her by the census taker.  My questions:  Is this a common or not unusual title given to widows or single women heads of household for the period and this location; and for public consumption, should I leave the comment by the third party alone and only address it in my personal tree?


Submitted byEEon Thu, 03/14/2019 - 13:14

Bev, what the census taker wrote was the conventional way of abbreviating "Madam," as you suspect. However, the superscript letter is not a w.  It is an m.  

Abbreviations that end with a superscript were typically formed by using the first letter or syllable of the name and then superscripting the final one or two letters. The standard abbreviation for Madame (in English) was Madm.  On the prior page, you'll also see other superscript abbreviations that follow this pattern—for example: Benjfor Benjamin and Bte for Baptiste.

It was indeed common in this society to call both widows and wives Madm (in English) or Mme (in French), followed by their married surname or the given name of the husband. 

As for a citation, I would cite the actual page image under the correct "Madm Spade" and then add a note saying that Ancestry has incorrectly indexed this as "Madme Medw Spade." I'd also want to add that an Ancestry user (user ID and date) has attached an alternate identifier, "Madam Mahala McAfee," without citing evidence.

Note, though, that "Madame Mahala" is not how she would have been identified in her society. In English and French, the "Madame" or "Mrs." meant "wife or widow of Husband's Name."  For the same reason, it would not be correct usage to identify a woman in this era as "Madame Maiden Name."