I can remember the first time I tried to do research in some German church records of about 1870. I thought, “How hard can it be?” I had my German dictionary with me and all I had to do was look up the words, right?
I put the film on the reader and scrolled through the first few pages to get a feel for the record. Hmmmm. First, the handwriting was really hard to read, and second, they were not letters that I recognized! How could I look up words when I couldn’t even figure out what the letters were? Let’s just say it was a rude awakening and I failed in my efforts that day.
Now, you’re probably thinking you’ll be just fine. You’re not going to be researching in foreign records. Your research will be recorded in English and you read and write English. Right?
I would tend to agree if the records were created today. Most research will be in records created some time ago when the handwriting and some of the letter forms looked different. If you haven’t already studied the handwriting for the era of your research, you won’t be able to wring everything you need out of the documents you search.
Your assignment is to study the handwriting for the time and place of the records where you will be researching.
Here’s some tools you can use:
- There is a great tutorial for reading English handwriting from 1500 to 1800 at the [British] National Archives website!
- There are some document samples you may practice on the “Document Samples,” at the website for the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
- If you’d like to study handwriting in depth, I recommend, Kip Sperry’s book, Reading Early American Handwriting. Amazon carries it. You can access Amazon through the box on my sidebar.
- You may practice on the many records FamilySearch has online. For instance, there is the New York Land Records you may access here, or the New York Probate Records available here.
- Other resources for practice may be found at Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. If you are not a current subscriber to these sites, you may sign up for a free trial through the boxes on my sidebar.
Now, when you finish this assignment, you will be ready to conduct your research!!!