Sunday, 14 March 2021

Learning palaeography ...

 I've previously written that I like messing about with old documents, either as part of family history , or as part of my documenting the contents of Dow's pharmacy.

I reckoned that I had been doing reasonably well reading old documents and pharmaceutical labels, so I decided to put my skills to the test by doing the Futurelearn course on Early Modern Scottish Palaeography.

I didn't bother with paying for a certificate of course completion or anything formal, as I just wanted to benchmark my skills and see how I was doing.

I came away both challenged and satisfied - I can say that I'm not bad with eighteenth century running italic - which is what I need to read Kirk Session records ( and by extension some early colonial period Australian convict records).

Due to the documentation cliff effect with records in eighteenth century Scotland I'm not sure how far back I can push the timeline of my family history - basically if they were too poor to own a horse or a clock, and didn't incur the wrath of the Kirk Session for extramarital sexual adventures - they will not have left much of a documentation trail.

And that leads me on to secretary hand - the style of handwriting more common before the eighteenth century. Scrawly and difficult and peppered with odd contractions and abbreviations. I learned that I could read it, but that if I was to become good at it I'd need a lot more practice, which was as I thought.

But for a short course it was good - three self paced two hour sessions with a mix of videos and written material, along with quizzes to see how you were travelling.

You had to concentrate, but it was interesting and concise. Understandably it was more targeted at people interested in Scottish history, but given that you can skip some of the historical material, that's not a great drawback.

So, if you're sufficiently mad to want to learn to read old records, you could do worse than start with this course ...

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