Free Online Palaeography Course

Authorisation-of-expenditurePalaeography is the study of old handwriting.

Typewriters were not invented until the 1860s and, even after that, many documents of interest to Family Historians were handwritten with pen and ink in large, heavy, leather bound, books or on parchment. If you have managed to trace your ancestors back before the 1841 Census then it will not be long before you find yourself sitting in a darkened room squinting at feint, faded, handwriting on a microfiche screen wondering how anyone who wrote so badly could ever become a Curate.

I was very interested to recently discover a free online Palaeography Course run by The National Archives entitled “Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500 – 1800 A practical online tutorial“. If you are interested in genealogy and would like to learn how to read old manuscripts then you may like to take a look. The tutorial was developed in partnership with the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies (SLAIS), University College London.

The course is free and is broken down into 5 main sections:

  • Introduction
  • Where To Start
  • Quick Reference
  • Tutorial
  • Further Practice

The course is supplemented by a light hearted Ducking Stool game and some links for further reading.

The Introduction is a brief summary of Palaeography and why you may find it useful.

The Where to Start section looks at Reading, Standard Phrases, Transcribing, Spelling and Abbreviations.

The Quick Reference section looks at Dating, Numbers, Money, Measurements and Counties.

The Interactive Tutorial covers 10 documents arranged in order of difficulty, each document has an explanation of it’s historical background, a glossary, notes on the palaeography, a sample alphabet taken from each document and a full transcript.

The Further Practice section has links to many documents so you can gain some additional practice.

The Ducking Stool game which follows is a light hearted game introduced as follows: “A 17th-century woman has been accused of a crime and as her punishment she faces the ducking stool. To free her from this fate you must correctly transcribe the following words…”

The Course ends with a Further Reading section with links to many useful documents and websites.

I would recommend this free National Archives Palaeography course to any Family Historian or Genealogist as a fascinating introduction to the world of old handwriting.