Learn to Read Old Handwriting – in Seven Languages!
As professional genealogists, we love it when any new tool comes along that makes our job simpler. In the larger scheme of things, we’re also appreciative of any development that makes genealogy more accessible and raises the quality of work done by everyday researchers as well.
One such excellent tool is called Script Tutorials. An academic resource, this website was created by faculty and student researchers within Brigham Young University’s Department of History and their Center for Family History and Genealogy. Since BYU is the only university in the world to offer a Bachelor’s degree in Family History and Genealogy, they have made it their goal not only to create help for the students in the program, but to enable the wider public to partake of their educational resources. As a result, Script Tutorials is a totally free site.
As a quick look at their homepage will show you, Script Tutorials was created with the intention of helping students, indexers, and genealogists learn how to read old handwriting, and to make sense of foreign documents without having to be fluent in the language of our ancestors. It is offered not only in English, but in six European languages as well – Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, German, and Italian (and according to the site, plans for adding Latin and several Eastern European languages are also in the works in the near future)! Their resources cover the styles used between 1500 and the late 1800s, and include discussions of common record types and their uses.
In addition to alphabet charts, it offers genealogical vocabulary lists which include words common to historical documents like parish registers, wills, deeds, and military records. It contains tutorials with sample documents and interactive exercises with which you can practice before jumping into your own family history. A section of the site dedicated to discussing the history of paleography and the development of writing is also fascinating and highly instructive.
As a student at BYU in the family history program a few years ago, I successfully used this resource and can personally attest to its helpfulness and need for the greater genealogical community! I have several German lines in my own family, but do not speak German and as a young student had very little experience with German research. In particular, I was intimidated by the unique and difficult German Gothic handwriting style that is not used by any other culture in Europe (and is no longer widely used today, even in Germany).
And yet, I was determined to learn and apply my new skills to my German ancestors. I enrolled in a German research course one semester and found the Script Tutorials website invaluable. While I was by no means an expert after using it, within a matter of hours I had familiarized myself with the letter forms and key words to the extent that I was able to locate and read through the civil registration birth record of my great-grandfather by myself. True, it was a slow process, but without Script Tutorials (and a German dictionary) it would not have happened at all – especially in one day.
You may be tempted to think, “Oh, my ancestors were from an English-speaking country, I probably don’t need this tool.” However, you may reconsider if and when you are ever faced with a document from the 1600s. Script Tutorials’ English section contains resources for learning secretary hand (the style of writing used from the 1400s through about 1750), and well as three other handwriting scripts used by English clerks and priests that will undoubtedly be part of your research at some point.
If you have ancestors from a country in which English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, or Dutch was spoken, you should not miss this incredible – and totally free – tool. You can find it at http://script.byu.edu.
Legacy Tree Genealogists employs many researchers who are experts in these and other languages and scripts, each having years of experience in their particular area. We can research your roots (English-speaking or otherwise) just about anywhere in the world with efficiency and knowledge. Contact us today to find out how we can put our expertise to work for you.