Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Scottish Handwriting in Old Documents - Some Quick Tips

Hello All -

I am sure it has happened sometime along the line whenever you have been doing any research into your Scottish ancestors - those pesky old documents with the funny hand to read writing.
To help you out a bit, there is a website dedicated to help in this. It is http://www.scottishhandwriting.com/index.asp
ScottishHandwriting.com is a product of the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN).

The website has online tutorials to help you get to grips with reading these old documents with the funny handwriting. There is an interactive tutorial and a coaching manual. Palaeography, studying old handwriting, is a skill that is worth trying to learn. If you are fortunate enough to find documents regarding your ancestor(s) before say 1770ish in Scotland, then this website will be quite helpful to you in learning the basics.

Also, it helps to learn a bit of latin too. Most of the Scottish documents found before 1750 are in latin. You don't have to get too learned in the language (only if you want to), just be able to recognize a few important words such as Father, Mother, born, died, married, son, daughter, etc.
A good idea would be to take a sheet of paper of latin words and their english translation with you when you do any research in a repository - sort of a cheat sheet. An excellent website on learning latin words and simple phrases in genealogy is found at the familysearch.org website: http://www.familysearch.org/eng/Search/RG/guide/WLLatin.ASP

Another very simple and quick tip on helping to read the handwriting on documents (for example ones found in the Statutory Registers after 1855) is if you have trouble making out a word in a document, say for example a death record, look at the words around the word you are having trouble with. Look at the letters and see if they look the same as the word you are trying to make out. This may help in making sense of the word. Of course you don't have to worry about such bad handwriting from the Registrar until after the early 1900s, when the documents were starting to be typed with a typewriter.

Just think, there is always someone out there with worse handwriting than you.

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