Category Archives: Handwriting

Tackling the Old Unfamiliar Script

If you are like me and have taken a branch of the family tree back to early records, the problem often isn’t finding the records, it’s reading them! I have run headlong into old English, old German and even Russian, which although is not written in an obsolete style, it uses the Cyrillic alphabet.

Here’s a great example:

ShakespeareWill1616
Page of Shakespeare’s Will, 1616
Source: Wikipedia

Shakespeare’s will was written in March 1616, not long before Massachusetts Bay Colony was up and running. Some of the very old American colonial records are written in this same type of script and, yes, it is in English. I have found several early court records where the handwriting was so difficult to read that I could barely pick out my ancestor’s name in them.

There are some great resources online to help decipher old handwriting. Here are several for Old English:

The National Archives (UK) – Palaeography

English Script Tutorial – Family Search

English Handwriting 1500-1700; An Online Course

Resources for Reading 16th to 19th Century Handwriting

 You don’t have any old English lines? How about German or Scandinavian?

JorgenJensenIngerJorgensdrMarrSonderup1772Ops144Copy
Danish Marriage Record, 1771-2

Old Danish mimicked the old German script in the 1600’s and 1700’s. If you look at old original German records, the letter styling is very similar. This record happens to be the marriage of Jorgen Jensen and Inger Jorgensdatter, two of my ancestors. If you are perplexed as to which entry is theirs, its the nice easy to read one in the bottom left corner. I had help finding this at the Family History Library. I am amazed at how well many of the volunteers can read this old writing. I was told the way they became proficient was through PRACTICE.

Here are online resources for learning to read old German script:

German Handwriting: FamilySearch

Here You Can Learn Suetterlin: The “German Handwriting”

Lastly, the geographical boundaries of Slovakia have changed many times through the centuries. In fact, the modern nation of Slovakia only became an independent country on 1 January 1993. Somewhat surprisingly, the church records, even those in small somewhat isolated villages, reflect the governmental changes.

I was happily reading through the records of Udol, my grandmother’s family’s village. Most of the Greek Catholic records are actually written in Latin so not understanding Slovak isn’t a hindrance when researching. Then I got to records in 1853 and the entries started looking like this:

UdolCyrillicRecord
1853 Church Record

This looked like a combination of our alphabet mixed in with Cyrillic alphabet letters and I wasn’t even able to read the name of the person in this entry. Good thing I was still in Salt Lake and there was help close by.

I decided when I got home and had more of these records to read, that I needed to gather some sources for reading Cyrillic or Russian letters so I could at least read names of the people.

Here are a few links for learning Cyrillic/Russian writing:

Reading Russian Handwritten Records

Cyrillic Alphabet Basics

All of these links are being added to the Research Tools icon on the home page toolbar. Fair warning, though – there is no easy way around learning to read unfamiliar handwriting. It takes practice, practice and more practice.