News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

May 5, 2013

‘Foreign’ letters to confuse a genealogist

TERRE HAUTE — Any serious family researcher will at some time or another encounter old documents in an older handwriting style that need to be read and deciphered. This exercise can be extremely frustrating to the person who has no experience with old varieties of handwriting. One of the skills each genealogist needs to have in his/her “toolbox” is proficiency with the different forms of old handwriting.

Many old documents of the 1500s, 1600s and early 1700s are in a type of writing called Secretary Hand. This writing style was developed in the early 16th century as an alternative to calligraphy (also called Book Hand), which monks in earlier centuries used when copying book manuscripts.

Calligraphy was much too time-consuming for general use, so a script for legal documents and all forms of government business was developed. It spread to also include general business, church writings and personal use.

Secretary Hand is common, and indeed the dominant style of handwriting, in wills, probate records, court records, deeds and parish records from the British Isles, Colonial America and some European countries, such as Germany, from 1500-1700.

In the Secretary style of script, there are a number of letters that are very different from modern letters. These include e, c, t, r, s, h and k. The script is full of loops and looks extremely ornate to the modern eye. Letters in the words are joined together, and there is also the presence of slashes and strokes before words, that lead into the word. These are called “attacking strokes.”

Commonly confused uppercase letters are F and H, J and I, K and R, S and L, O and Q, P and R, U and V, and W or M for UU. Commonly confused lowercase letters are b for f, d for el, j for i, k for t, s for l, t for c, ss for fs or ps, w for vv, and y for g.

A letter not used nowadays can be found in Secretary script. This is the old Germanic rune, called “thorn,” which represented the “th” sound. It looks to us like the letter “y.” Thus “the” was spelled “ye,” “them” and “that” were abbreviated as “ym” and “yt,” but the words were pronounced exactly as they are now.

The “yogh” is also a letter not found in present-day English, but was a carry-over from middle English. It resembled our cursive “tailed z” or a number 3 in appearance. This letter sounded like a g, k, or h. Thus the word “night” could appear something like ni3t.

A third letter used in older script was the “long s.” The letter s could have two distinctive appearances while sounding the same. This older form of s originated back in Roman times and is present in Roman script. In the Secretary Hand, the long s looked like a p with a very long descendent. When printed, the long s resembles a lower-case f without the horizontal line through the middle. These two letters – long s and short s – were simply different versions of the s we still know and love in today’s English. They sounded the same. There were rules for when to write the different versions of s. Essentially, the long s was used at the beginning or in the middle of words, but not at the end. To see all of the rules for using long or short s, go to babelstone. blogspot.com/2006/06/rules-for-long-s.html.

Finally, ampersands (the “and sign,” “et cetera sign,” or “&”) were used in the Secretary Hand but are unrecognizable symbols to us today. To view examples of the Secretary Hand, visit help.familysearch.org/publishing/555/107333_f.SAL_Public.html and www.buck

sas.org.uk/ratshand

writingtest.html.

More on old handwriting next week.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
History
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Judge OKs Record-setting $2B Sale of Clipper Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating Mother of 2 Makes NFL Cheerleading Squad at 40 UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Trial Begins Over OKC Bombing Video The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Fish Oil Plant Blast Kills One Suspect Dead, Marshals and Cop Wounded in NYC Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Today in History for July 29th Two Huge Fires Burning in Northern California Raw: Airstrike Shatters Fragile Calm in Gaza
NDN Video
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now!
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity