A cousin asked me about the difficulty in dealing with older handwriting, so I thought I’d do a quick blog post with examples of some of the hands. Palaeography is the study of antiquated writing and inscription and the deciphering and interpretation of historical writing systems and manuscripts (Merriam-Webster). I think it is a lot of fun.
I love deciphering old handwriting. Possibly because I took shorthand in high school (yes, I am that old). I like the challenge of being able to read something that is not immediately readable to the average eye.
Going backward from today.
Currently, we use what is called round hand that has been in use since approximately the early 1800s. Although the handwriting can get messy, most of us can read it fairly easily.
Italic hand (named because it originated in Italy, not because it resembles the current Italic script in printing) was used from the 1500s to about the early 1800s.
Secretary hand was in use from about the early 1400s to the mid 1800s.
With the overlap of years, it is not unusual to find handwriting that is a mix of secretary and italic,
whether quite neat, as above or a little less neat.
Secretary hand included some hands specifically named for their main uses such as the courts of Exchequer
Neither of these should be confused with Court hand, which was earlier than these hands and in use from the middle ages to the early 1700s.
Add to the various hands, the fact that most early records are in Latin (such as the court hand above). Latin was in use in England for documents until 1733, with the exception of the period of the Commonwealth.
To keep matters interesting, much of my research is in Norway and Sweden, so I need to translate documents from those languages as well as reading the old script as necessary.
As with anything, palaeography gets easier with practice, lots of practice.