As you trace your family back to England in the 1600 and 1700s, you may come to the realization that the records are written in some foreign language and are impossible to read. But don’t despair! With some desire and some work, you will find that the records lose their appearance of being impossible and even become fun to read. There are a number of training classes and tutorials available online. This article will share a few of the Web sites that can help you.
One of the big reasons that records created between 1500 and 1700 are difficult to read is because they are usually written in an old style of handwriting called the Secretary Hand. The Secretary Hand consists of many letters of the alphabet that are written very differently than the way we write them today. Once you learn the differences, you will be able to read old handwriting with as much ease as you read the handwriting of today.
Another big reason you might not be able to read old English records is because they actually are in a foreign language, Latin. At times in history, Latin was the official language in England. This was the case between 1500 and 1733. However, this is not an insurmountable obstacle; you can learn how to cope with the Latin in the records.
Here are some online courses that can help you learn to read old English records:
- A short introductory online course in how to read English Secretary Hand letters and words is available at www.familysearch.org. On the log-in page, click the link “Free Online Classes.” The classes are listed under the heading, “Reading Handwritten Records Series”. There are three classes in the course, including “English Lesson 1: English Secretary Hand Letters,” “English Lesson 2: Abbreviations, Dates, and Latin Words,” and Lesson 3: Reading English Secretary Hand Documents.” The course will get you started on your way to becoming an expert in reading the old records. There are both instruction and practice activities to help you learn.
- The National Archives of Great Britain (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk ) has tutorials for both handwriting and Latin. There is opportunity to practice using samples of real documents. Once you are on the Web site, click the “Records” tab, the box “Understand the Archives,” and then “Reading Old Documents” to get to the tutorials.
- http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/ceres/ehoc provides an online course of 28 lessons to help you learn to read old documents. Each lesson gives you the opportunity to transcribe part of a document with helps if you struggle. Discussions of other difficulties you encounter in reading old records are also available.
- http://Paleo.anglo-norman.org provides two different tutorials. One deals with early modern English, which includes the time period of the Secretary Hand. The other tutorial deals with handwriting during the medieval time period, which is much earlier and more difficult. There are practice documents and even a test within the tutorials.
- www.scottishhandwriting.com focuses on the reading of Scottish records, but it still teaches you about the Secretary Hand and the basics of reading the old records.
You can find other courses by doing a Google search for instruction in how to read old English handwriting. Your ability to read old records will improve with study and daily practice. If you do this, you will be well on your way to reading old English records.