Scottish handwriting parallels that of England in that secretary hand was introduced in the late 15th Century. It was well established in Scotland by the mid-16th Century, and was eventually replaced by italic.
Many words used in early documents were written in Latin. However, in later years Scotland was more heavily influenced by French handwriting than was England. After the introduction of italic in the 16th Century, a number of documents contained mixed secretary and italic handwriting's.
Those keeping records, such as scribes, used a fashionable italic. However, for certain records or documents, such as testaments, secretary hand continued to be used until the early 18th Century.
The two major languages used to write most documents in the 16th and 17th Centuries were Latin and Scots (basically similar to lowland dialects of English during this time period).
Legal documents were written in Latin until the 18th Century and in Scottish Secretary hand or italic. Testaments were written in Scots and secretary hand.
The difficulty in reading the early handwriting is that the words they use in the documents may be unfamiliar to you. The best way to learn to read the old handwriting is to practice. The following strategies may be of help.
- Begin with a more recent time period and work toward earlier periods.
- Make an alphabet of the writer’s style.
- Read for sense.
- When you cannot read a word, decipher it letter by letter.
- If you cannot read a letter, compare the letter with the same letter in words you recognize.
- People spelled phonetically and may not be as it is spelled today.
- Many times there are extra letters added to words such as head or bed (hede, hedde, bedde, bede, etc.)
- Words like "such(e)" or words that do not end with an 'e' ordinarily may have an 'e' added at the end of the word.
- An 'i' or 'y' were interchangable, such as in "heires" or "heyers."
- An 'i' and 'j' are interchangable and may be written in dates. The 'j' may appear as an 'i' at the end of a date. For instance viiij would be eight.
Aids for being able to read Scottish Handwriting
- Allison Rosie. Scottish Handwriting 1500-1700 a self help pack. Published by Scottish Records Association, 1994; ISBN 1 870874 04 8.
- Grant G Simpson. Scottish Handwriting 1150-1650. Published by Aberdeen University Press, 1986 (140 pages); ISBN 0 900015 41 1 (Hardback), 0 08 034516 6 (Paperback).
The National Archives of Scotland
There are web sites available to explain methods of reading Scottish handwriting. The National Archives of Scotland at http://www.nas.gov.uk is the primary site. They provide a tutorial and background information that helps decipher each document that they have for you to transcribe.
The National Archives of Scotland is a very good resource for you to learn more about the letters, the language, and how they wrote. They have many dictionaries they refer to and they tell you which ones are the best to use depending on what time period you are working in.
To learn more about sources for reading and translating Scottish documents, see the above web site and click on the link to Scottish Handwriting. Then click on the Bibliography link. Here you can use the tutorials to learn about Scottish Handwriting how to read the handwriting.