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Macro-Typography of Deeds: 4


The job of the information architect is to devise an anatomy for such documents that leads to better screen presentation than the paper originals could achieve. No one anatomy is the "best" or "right": which one you use depends on your purpose.

We can illustrate this by considering the different methods of human anatomy. An artist is likely to use an anatomical system that divides the human figure into head, trunk and limbs. A dermatologist's anatomy might divide the body into closed spaces and surfaces (which could be further subdivided into skin and mucous membrane). The two anatomies have nothing in common, but each serve their own purpose.

The basic anatomy of every European will is fairly plain: (1) the testator is identified, (2) listed property is distributed and (3) the document is validated with a signature. Here is a more detailed anatomy, specifically for an official English record of probate, of which the will is a sub-part:

These segments are easy enough to represent as divisions in the HTML structure of a document, and I have already suggested above how some of these parts should be marked off by sub-headings.

A more finely detailed anatomy that is true for most examples is difficult to discern in an English will. This is not only because a will is free text, but also because these documents have many different uses for a modern researcher. Wills are variously of interest to social historians, economists, anthropologists, genealogists and of course lawyers, and ways of using them are for example discussed in the former journal History and Computing (volume 7 issue 3 (1995)).

Since the uses vary so much, there will probably never be a standard way of (re)structuring wills. One group of researchers is interested in the economic values, another in the historical persons, and the legal scholars in the legal mechanisms they contain. Numerically, the largest group of researchers using wills are probably those reconstructing families, so I will propose an anatomy and a macro-typographical design tailored to that area of study.

The principal focus when using a will for family reconstruction is the set of names and family relationships in the document. Often more than one person is mentioned in connection with a single bequest. The gift may go to two or more persons jointly, or to one person for life with reversion to another, as in the first legacy of the Robert Tyler example seen above.

Sometimes the persons mentioned are not legatees at all: the will of Alice Alefounder († 1801) made a gift of a copperplate picture showing a beneficiary "with his cousin Anna Maria Jane Alefounder", although the latter woman is not a legatee.

This is quite a challenge in marking up, because all these personal names are embedded in the flow of text. The natural divisions in the text are the sentences. So what kind of signals do we use to make the personal names more visible through the typography? One way is to simply highlight the supplementary names with a different text colour, or with a marker-pen-style background colour, like this:

to my nephew Stephen Hempsted my silver tankard to my grandson George Alefounder four large silver tablespoons, my metal watch and the copperplate picture of him with his cousin Anna Maria Jane Alefounder Also I give to my said Grandson George Alefounder all my household goods ...

A principal disadvantage with this is that the colouring may not show up on many printers, where the drivers are set to suppress background colour.

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Examples: • HeadingsTwo Sub-HeadingsThree Sub-HeadingsThe Core as ListSingle-Item ListExpanding TextRun-In HeadingsCompilationVariation