Today I was talking to another researcher about a will that he transcribed for me and he said he figured out one of the words he just couldn’t decipher earlier. He recently found the word – disposing – in several other wills he was working on. Here is how it was used in a sentence:
“I, Benjamin Hawkins of the county of Buncombe in the state of North Carolina being distressed in body but of sound and disposing mind and memory….”
The word disposing was used in a way that was unfamiliar to us so I thought about looking it up in Black’s Law Dictionary to see what they said. I had used the dictionary earlier today on another legal term so it was top of mind. Black’s was first published in 1891 by Henry Black, and the second edition, published in 1910, is still the best resource on legal terminology and is online for free.
According to Black’s, the definition of a disposing mind is “…alternative or synonymous phrases in the law of wills for “sound mind,” and “testamentary capacity.” Obviously, this term is important in describing the capacity of the person giving final directions for their estate while their life is coming to an end. I’ll have to do some more reading to find out if the term is still being used.
Put a link to this dictionary on your favorites bar – it will help you discern the smallest nuance when trying to analyze a document. Sometimes, the meaning of one word in a sentence can completely turn around your interpretation of a piece of evidence. We need all the help we can get!