After a very enjoyable conversation with the Sussex Genealogist, Kerry Baldwin, (see the podcast here) about handwriting and old wills there were so many tips shared that I decided to write a blog post about them.
Paleography is the study of ancient writing systems.
Kerry’s tips for reading and interpreting an old will
- Read it through from start to finish to get a sense of it
- Look for the forms of the letters to familiarise yourself with them
- Read a word letter by letter (cover up other letters if necessary)
- How do the letters lead into one another?
- Look at the context of the word
- Look for familiar names and places (Kerry researches the places on the internet)
- Learn legal phrases that crop up time and again
Once you’ve done that then write it out by hand, allowing spacing for any areas you are unsure of.
When a will is transcribed it is sometimes done line by line so you type up what you see on an individual line so that referencing it is easier (i.e. line 6 word 4)
If you want to add punctuation so that it flows better please do so. The word ‘item’ may indicate a new sentence.
Online Resources to help you with handwriting
- National Archive Paleography Tutorials
- Cambridge University – paleography
- The University of Chicago – paleography
- Harvard University – paleography
- Tips from Ancestry
Online Resources to help you with interpreting old wills
- Family History Federation (of Family History Societies)
- A blog post re the format of wills
- Index of terms used in 17th and 18th century wills.
- Simple Latin terms for genealogists.
Search for wills in different UK countries on the websites below:
Do you need more help?
And if you’d like Kerry to transcribe your will for you please contact her via her website https://www.sussexgenealogist.co.uk