​​​Genealogy Detective

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Palaeography (Handwriting)

Sharron Mirikitani

Palaeography is the study of old handwriting. Handwriting has evolved tremendously over the centuries. Legal documents, such as legal documents and personal correspondence was written using various cursive flourishes. One common example of confusing handwriting is the common use of what looked like the letter "f" that was actually the letter "s". The further back we go in history the more difficult it is to transcribe written documents.

Handwriting is an entire course at BYU. We are going to do a crash course on handwriting. Practicing by doing actual transcriptions is the best way to learn and develop skills in reading old handwriting. There are a number of resources online:

Tips for Reading Old Handwriting  â€‹by Ancestry.com

Palaeography; Reading Old Handwriting  by The National Archives

Handwriting Helps  on Family Search.org

Training Articles on Old Handwriting on Family Search.org

Reading English Handwritten Records Lesson 1: English Secretary Hand Letters

Now that you have been introduced to the complexity of old handwriting you should practice transcribing some old family documents. The more you transcribe, the more proficient you will become in recognizing old styles.

One trick I use when transcribing a document is to find common words that are easily recognizable. You can use these examples to compare letters in other words in the document. Writing styles vary from individual and comparing documents and words within a documents will help you immensely.