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A large part of genealogy is reading old documents. The problem is, that shi* is hard. The good part is, that means that if we study it and master it, people will pay us to read things for them! And that shi* is awesome.

But the learning process, man. I love/hate it.

The National Archives of the UK is a godsend for wanna be paleographers. On their website, they have 10 (huge, enormous, challenging) documents (letters, wills, court documents, etc) that give you a mini-lesson on, and then walk you through as you transcribe each, line by line.

I’m currently working on “the registered probate copy of the will of Thomas Pike, a shipwright, dated 15 February 1722/3 (Catalogue reference: PROB 11/593 quire 196)”

Aka this hot mess:

Can you read line 5 there? BECAUSE I CAN’T.


I did pretty well on the first document (Princess Elizabeth I’s letter to her sister Queen Mary) and so I’m kind of surprised at how ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY LOST AND CONFUSED I am on this will. It’s incredible how much handwriting changes over time and based on location. Which, while making me shake my metaphoric cane at this damned lesson, just confirms how important it is that I actually start taking paleography seriously as a dedicated genealogist.

So, what about you? Have you studied paleography? Have you mastered the National Archives’s educational brain torture? Do you know how to properly make the word Archives into a possessive? I am seriously considering the University of Strathclyde’s Msc in Genealogical, Palaeographic, and Heraldic Studies, and I also have the book Reading Early American Handwriting (if your research extends into early America, you should get this book!). I need to sit down and work on it some more when I move and am able to retrieve all of my belongings out of storage, but as for now I find this online tutorial from the National Archives (UK) to be the best study of old handwriting available. And it’s free! Free is also awesome!

PS: Line five there says “and other uncertanties of this transitory”  — if you got that on your own, you are a much better wo/man than I!