Readin that Writin
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a website called Scottish Handwriting that has tutorials about reading and using records in Scotland. Today I would like to introduce you to a similar effort from The National Archives of England and the United Kingdom (TNA).
TNA offers Paleography: Reading Old Handwriting 1500–1800. The tutorial was created in partnership with the School of Library, Archive, and Information Studies at University College London. It is divided into seven sections:
- Where to Start
- Quick Reference
- Interactive Tutorial
- Further Practice
- Game – Ducking Stool
- Further Reading
The Introduction provides a compact overview of the tutorial. Where to start is a great piece that starts with the concept of how we read:
“The huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. The oredr of the ltteers in the wrod can be in a total mses but you can sitll raed it wouthit any porbelm.”
There follows a discussion of standard phrases, transcribing, spelling, and abbreviations. The Quick Reference contains information on dating (just to be clear, this means tips on calendar years vs. regnal years, not how to score on a Friday night in a bar), numbers, money, measurements, and counties. This is particularly helpful for Americans or others who don’t know the difference between Barks and Bucks (Berkshire and Buckinghamshire) or Hants and Hunts (Hampshire and Huntingdonshire).
The Interactive Tutorial contains ten documents for transcribing, starting from relatively easy to much more difficult. Each documents has a section explaining the document, transcribing tips for the particular documents, and an image of the document with a box beneath in which to type your transcription. You transcribe the document line by line. Each time you submit a line, it tells you how many words your got wrong, which words they were, and the percentage you got right. You then have the option to go back and try again or move to the next line. You can ask for a hint here to help you with the words you got wrong.
The Further Practice section provides a number of documents to work with. Each document provides an introduction to the document, an image of the document, a page on which you can zoom in on the document, and a transcription of the document against which you can check your work. There is also a Ducking Stool game for you to try your hand at. A seventeenth-century woman is about to be dropped into the river on a dunking school. You can save her by correctly spelling words. Finally, the Further Reading section provides a bibliography of articles and books about paleography.
This is a great tutorial from TNA. For those with American ancestry, it is equally important to use it. Whether your ancestors were British or not, the scribes and recordkeepers were, and many records are written with the same rules as in Britain. Try it out today and see quickly you can start reading the old handwriting.