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Script Tutorial: Making Sense of Old Handwriting

Access: BYU, Department of History and the Center for Family History and Genealogy

Between 1500 and 1800 Britain and Ireland used a variety of scripts–often mixing forms from an older script with newer innovations. While much material written after 1750 is decipherable without specialized training, some older, difficult, forms of writing persisted in particular record types until the 1850s. The dominant script from the early modern period (1500-1700) in England, Wales, Ireland, and colonial America was the secretary hand. Secretary hand was also used in Scotland, though Scots writers developed a few unique letterforms and strokes not found in other places within Britain. This tutorial concentrates on secretary hand, but begins with more modern hands to provide paleographic practice; it also introduces older scripts used between the middle ages and the sixteenth century.

Script Tutorial: Making Sense of Old Handwriting

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