17 September 2007

Historical handwriting: Resources for help

Here's information on some resources to help you decipher family documents.

Paleography - the study of early handwriting - is an essential skill needed to decipher old documents, whether they are originals or digitized versions. Just think about the Ellis Island Database and the difficulties of locating the proper records because the transcribers had so much trouble with old handwriting.

We may find our ancestors' letters or other records, but cannot understand what is written. Add in foreign languages and alphabets or simply archaic English, along with faded ink and deteriorating paper, and it can all be rather frustrating.

An article by Kenton County Public Library staff in the Cincinnati Post offers some tips for researchers, offering books and online resources.

"Reading Early American Handwriting," by Kip Sperry, offers basic guidelines and tips, sample alphabets and handwriting styles, antiquated terms, abbreviations and contractions. Other books include "If I Can, You Can Decipher Germanic Records" by Edna M. Bentz; "The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years" by E. Kay Kirkham; "Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents: Analyzing German, Latin and French in Vital Records Written in Germany" by Roger P. Minert; and "Understanding Colonial Handwriting" by Harriet Stryker-Rodda.

Online, Cyndi's List features a plethora of links to articles, tutorials and web sites on handwriting. Family Tree Magazine has useful links on handwritten data, medieval paleography, early handwriting and more.

To read more, click here.

Avotaynu offers several useful publications for the special needs of researchers tracing their Jewish families, such as examples of Jewish documents, Jewish names, information on Yiddish and Hebrew and more.

Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide, Jonathan Shea & William Hoffman
A guide to translating vital statistic records in 13 languages: Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.

In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide -- Polish, Jonathan Shea & William Hoffman.
A detailed buide translating Polish documents.

In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide -- Russian, Jonathan Shea & William Hoffman.
A detailed guide to translating Polish documents.

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