Friday, 20 August 2010

Follow Friday: Reading old handwriting

This is something we have all come up against: you find the precious record you have been searching for for over 30 years - and then you can't read it!  It's not even in Latin, or Anglo-Saxon or anything, and it wasn't scribbled down, but written so beautifully that only someone from a bygone age could decipher it...BYU have put together a series of tutorials on old handwriting.  Their tutorials cover several different countries including Germany, Holland, Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal...and England.

The tutorials are free (my favourite word) and point you in the direction of the National Archives as well.  Here is another set of free tutorials covering palaeontology, or old handwriting.  Both sites don't just offer tutorials, they also offer practices and samples.  With the National Archives, you can even learn beginner's Latin!

But don't forget the main ingredient of reading old handwriting.  No, it's not a magnifying glass, nor years of expertise - it's patience.  Often, you will find that if you move your eyes over another part of the page, you will recognise a letter, so that when you come back to the word you were trying to decipher, all becomes clear.  Try it with a census page.

Two things to remember (that I got caught out on early in my genealogical travels):
1.  Double-s is often written with the 'long s', like this:

(Well, I had seen 'Lord' and 'Prince' as names given to children of poor families, so why not 'Jefe' - which, in Spanish, means 'Chief'?)

2.  Some enumerators were pressed for time and, if there was a family with, say, eight children, they only wrote the surname once, for the father - and the rest were dittoed.  Except they weren't dittoed with ditto marks, but with the word 'Do'.  So John Smith had a wife Mary Do, and children Fred Do, George Do, Sarah Do and so on.  For years, I thought I had a new surname in my family tree!

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