Subscribe FAQ Terms of Use
Certificates Courses Course Calendar Packages Registration Consultation Appointments
My Briefcase Help! How Do I?
Virtual Learning Room Links Forms Comments by Students
Faculty & Consultants Graduates Contact Us Our Background We Need Your Help

Palaeography: Reading & Understanding Historical Documents
Register (Fees/Dates)
Other Info
NOTE: This course requires compulsory materials to be ordered. Please click on the Supplies tab for details.

A number of topics linked to palaeography are covered to ensure participants have sufficient background to tackle unfamiliar documents that span the past five hundred years. The primary goal involves transcribing the unfamiliar writing in old documents to the modern day hand. A secondary objective is to provide the student with a feeling of success and achievement when new skills are learned. As Britain had a major influence on the cosmopolitan development of North America, examples will be taken from British and Canadian resources. Canadian resources will focus on The Hudson''s Bay Company Archives, which are British in origin, and are now held at the Hudson''s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg. These materials reflect the profound influence of British language, culture and economics on the development of North America. There are many issues related to transcribing old documents that necessitate an introduction to the following topics:

Writing Materials, Palaeography, Roman Numerals, Currency, The Calendar, The Religious Calendar, Weights and Measures, Origin of Family Names, Social Structure in Britain, Occupations, Introduction to Latin Terminology, Bibliography.

Examples will be given in the text of the information booklet, but in order to achieve success and practise the new skills it is necessary to follow the prepared activities in the workbook. Answers will be found at the back of the workbook under each section heading.

To gain experience with reading and interpreting documents, the workbook has been designed to reinforce topics discussed in the main text. As the student progresses through a new section continual practise is available using Review Exercises in the Workbook. Mastery develops with review and reinforcement.

Weekly activities may appear lighter at the beginning of the course. As the student gains experience more tasks will be added, as review is not anticipated to be quite as time consuming as developing new skills.

One student’s experience:
To hear a student discussion regarding their experience with this course, please click here. (This is a large file and may take a minute or two to download.)

Course Content

Module 1

Writing Materials
  • Parchment, Vellum or Paper
  • Watermarks
  • Envelopes
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Inks
  • Collector''s Items
  • Sealing Wax

  • Textura
  • Anglicana
  • Court Hand
  • Bastard Hand
  • Secretary Hand
  • Italic Hand
  • Yogh & Thorn
  • Examples of Early Alphabets
  • Clues to the Alphabet
  • Techniques for Reading Early Documents
  • Preparation
  • Transcribing the Manuscript
  • Transcribing an Unknown Word
  • Dealing with Difficulties

    Module 2

    Picture Clues to Help Unscramble Script

    Early Forms of Speed Writing
  • Some Common Abbreviations & Contractions
  • Reading Words Containing Contractions or Ligatures
  • Punctuation, Grammar & Literary Style
  • Examples of the Development of Grammar & Style
  • Creative Spelling
  • Common Spelling Variations

    Module 3

    Roman Numerals
    Documents Using Roman Numerals

  • Coins
  • Common Values of British Coins, Prior 1971
  • Paper Money
  • Account Books
  • Addition & Subtraction
  • Example

    Module 4

    Calendars, Ancient & Modern
  • Examples of Calendars
  • Example
  • Dating Manuscripts
  • Regnal Years of British Monarchs from 1066
  • Regnal Year
  • Examples
  • Some Useful Documents for the Genealogist
  • Civil Registration/Vital Statistics
  • Census Returns
  • Parish Registers
  • Probate Records
  • Inventory
  • Land Records

    Module 5

    Weights & Measures
  • Length
  • Measurements Based Upon the Body
  • Surveyors'' Measurements
  • Area
  • Mass
  • Metric Units
  • Troy Units
  • Avoirdupois Units
  • Apothecary Units of Mass
  • Capacity
  • Capacity – Dry Merchandise
  • Capacity – Liquid Merchandise
  • Units of Fluid Measurement
  • Common Usage in Home Therapy
  • Ale (volume)
  • Quantities of Ale
  • Bread (number)
  • Cloth (length)
  • Comparative Lengths of Cloth
  • Coal (mass)
  • Coal Units
  • Dairy Produce (mass)
  • Paper (number)
  • Soap (mass)
  • Soap Units
  • Tea (mass)
  • Wine (capacity)
  • Volumes of Wine
  • Wool (mass)
  • Mass of Wool

    Module 6

    The Church, The Manor & Social Life
  • Church Feasts & Festivals
  • Charities & Doles
  • Fairs or Market Days
  • Manorial Records
  • Court Baron
  • Court Leet
  • The Records

    Module 7

  • Origins of Surnames
  • Relationships
  • English Surnames
  • Surnames Derived from Localities
  • Surnames Derived from Occupations
  • Status
  • Agricultural
  • Legal
  • Trades
  • Surnames Derived from Nicknames
  • Deformities
  • Personality
  • Physical Features
  • Festivals & Seasons
  • Welsh Surnames
  • Scottish Surnames
  • Irish Surnames
  • Naming Patterns for Newborns
  • Social Structure in Britain
  • Upper Class
  • Middle Class


    Module 8

    Latin Terminology
  • Latin Names
  • Males
  • Females
  • Latin Names for Countries of The United Kingdom
  • Occupations & Social Status Written in Latin
  • Latin Terminology for the Calendar
  • Latin Terminology for Feasts & Festivals
  • Latin Numerals
  • Reading Latin Dates in Documents
  • Family Relationships
  • Latin Terminology from Parish Documents
  • Latin Phrases from Parish Documents
  • Latin Words from Legal & Manorial Documents
  • Latin Phrases from Legal & Manorial Documents
  • Latin Terminology & Abbreviations from Medical Documents
  • Apothecary Weight (Mass)
  • Fluid Measurement



       Copyright © 1999-2023, National Institute for Genealogical Studies. All Rights Reserved.