The Notley Seal

The Wax Maddox Seal


Pat Doster had read about the tiny seal in a W. N. Hurley book called Maddox Family of Southern Maryland.  She had to see it because the wax seal on the 1757 will of Notley Maddox Jr. was absolute history.

Important documents in England and the Colonies were authenticated by placing a glob of sealing wax next to the signature and impressing the wax with a signet ring. Because wills could be easily falsified and the wishes of the descendant ignored, wills were "sealed" by pressing a signature ring into the soft sealing wax proving that only the possessor of the ring was the true divisee or grantee making bequests to his heirs. If the Maddox family had passed down  from father to son a signet ring, this was tangible evidence of  their ancient Welsh heritage.

Hurley notes the entire Maddox seal doesn't show on the tiny wax impression but sees clearly the figure of a lion passant (lion shown in profile), the principal charge on the Coat of Arms of Maddox as described in Burke's "The General Armory."

Genealogists borrow legal concepts, Doster says. In the case of an original document made at or near the time of an event, genealogists consider this "primary evidence" or the highest proof. Most family historians view copies. Deeds, wills, other probate records, marriage bonds, are all copies made and stored in the courthouses of the county of residence of our ancestors. State archives microfilm the copies, so does the Mormon Church.

Pat Doster seems well-suited for genealogy.  Daughter of a lawyer, this North Carolinian is a stickler for truth and accuracy.  She doggedly checks her details and travels extensively to satisfy her craving for history.  One year, she'll tour Europe and another, tramp through the tall grass of Kentucky to see a log cabin built by an ancestor.

She'll study dull ancestral charts and obscure books filled with names and dates of not just one family--but a dozen.  Family lineage is far from dull to her.  If she finds that interesting, what ecstatic bliss overcomes her when she touches what he touched, the real thing--the red wax seal of her ancestor?

--B Maddox
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In Search of Heritage
      --an essay by genealogist Patricia Doster
If you visit a state archive, you sit long hours viewing records on microfilm machines. A tiring, extremely boring process.  So, when presented with the possibility of locating a will, authenticated with a red wax seal, my enthusiasm knew no bounds!  Off I went to Annapolis with high hopes of photographing it - at the very least.
        Those of you who know Annapolis well, understand it is an colonial city with high standards of historic preservation. For those of you who have never been to Annapolis, a word of caution. Go armed with a good map and know exactly what you're looking for. Annapolis is built around two circles,  Church Circle and State Circle, and the narrow one-way streets radiate off the circles like the hub of a wheel. Once onto the traffic circle, you must locate the right street and cut across two-lane traffic to exit. It's a harrowing procedure--nearly as troublesome as finding long-hidden records in an archive.
        Fortunately, the Maryland Archives is located on Rowe Blvd coming into town off the Bay Bridge Rt. 50/301.  One in the lobby, I stored my purse and coat in a locker, pocketed a key, and headed for the research room. Only pencils and notebooks are allowed there. In fact, I was handed a rule list and practically had to place a finger print on the sheet. Security, in other words, is very tight because of philanderers who in the past have made off with valuable ancestral records.
        Once I filled out the correct form and placed it in the hands of the right librarian, all I had to do was wait with bated breath. I heard my name paged and went to collect a large gray box. Since I couldn't wait to get back to my assigned carrel to open it, I did so while standing at the main desk . . .  and there it was: a small dime-sized piece of wax at the bottom of Notley Maddox Jr.'s three page will.
        I gulped and inhaled! A thrill of discovery went through me as I placed the tip of one finger lightly on the seal. I thought about "the ET touch." I thought about God giving Moses the "touch" in the Sistine Chapel.
That was the feeling - elation tinged with awe. My finger was touching the past - the wax seal of Notley Maddox, my 6 x great-grandfather. An awesome, sobering moment fraught with tense emotion. "Wow," I exhaled, it was all worth it. The long trip over horrible interstates to impassible Annapolis.
        I must have been beside myself because several by-standers rushed over to investigate. One fellow even placed his finger on the seal. I was astonished. The seal had survived for 240 years, and here was this imposter shoving it off the page. I grasped his arm and pulled. "Please, sir, don't do that!" He eyed me with suspicion but left me to my wonderment.
        Since the rules forbid more than looking, I asked about a photograph. "Yes," said head librarian, "we do archival photographs, but the cost is prohibitive."
        "How much?"
        "Oh," was the rejoinder, "ten dollars," eyeing me as if to suggest such a sum was beyond my means. You know how officious librarians can be in your home town? Well, quadruple that for state archivists. Not to be intimidated, I ordered four copies! When I returned home, two weeks later there were the copies. Not very good ones, I might add. I could have done better on a photocopy machine, but no matter, I had been there, I had touched the seal, and I was satisfied - the moment was locked in my psyche.
"Grasp the significance of who you are and what your family stands for in a country devoted to pluralization"
--Pat Doster
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