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  • Paige Nelson

How is Paleography relevant to Family History Research?

At first glance, many documents seem ineligible to the reader. There are tips and tricks to help you read, transcribe, and translate what was written on those historical documents, with time and practice you will find it easier to read ancient and historical handwriting. Paleography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting which enables you to Transcribe Documents. Included is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing, and books were produced.


I have found that reading and transcribing historical documents is extremely exciting and at times exhilarating! Even when it’s a scanned image of the original it still seems like there’s a piece of history right in front of your very own eyes! It is fascinating to see the language of the time, how they describe the events that happened in their lives.


I find myself coming up with questions that aren’t about the text too. Questions like:

Who wrote this?

Why did they write it?

Who was it being sent to?

When was it sent?

How did it possibly affect the persons writing and reading it?


You can learn how to transcribe documents yourself by studying books on paleography or take a peek at The National Archives. They have many documents available for you to practice paleography and show you the use of abbreviations and spelling that was used in history as they do differ from references and spelling commonly used today.


2 key things to remember are:

1. What is the document? Knowing the background to the document you are viewing will help with the context, meaning that you will spot words that you would expect to see in this type of document. It can help you decipher the handwriting.

2. When copying a document, you should always retain the original spellings used in the original document. When expanding any abbreviated word in the original text, put letters you have added into square brackets i.e. [ ]. That way if you no longer have the original document in front of you, you will know which letters you have added.


If you wish to learn more there are also formal courses available at some of the top universities. If you simply wish to look into mini courses or classes about family history research, there are some out there. We are in the process of designing some great starter courses here at Another Leaf Genealogy and hope to make them available soon.


If doing your own family tree research seems overwhelming, then consider the service options at www.anotherleafgenealogy.com where we can do it for you!

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