Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

Reading Latin and old handwriting

handwriting sample

Advice and lessons on reading old documents.

The wide availability of many different online archives now means that many people are discovering ancestors as far back as the 16th century. Being able to trace them further back than ever before means there is often a problem of trying to read and understanding documents written in seemingly undecipherable handwriting.

There is the additional problem that many of the parish records and estate records are in Latin.

Do not despair or give up. With a some study and practise the contents of these documents will reveal themselves.

There are two good online resources on how to learn Latin and how to decipher the handwriting.

The University of Cambridge has a digital archive of manuscript miscellanies and commonplace books from c. 1500-1700. There are a number of courses covering different periods, each with many examples of various hands of varying difficulty. Each have a transcription exercise and test.

The National Archives have a similar online tutorial: Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500 - 1800.

Also at The National Archives is an online tutorial for beginners in Latin. No previous knowledge of Latin is required

For an older text book try Court-hand Restored Or, The Student's Assistant in Reading Old Deeds on the Internet Archive.

More articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

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Essex Standard Newspaper

Newspaper archives are now a very important source of information for researching your family tree.

Try our example search to help you discover if your ancestors are in the British Newspaper Archive.

Help me find my ancestors

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Looking for pictures to add to your family tree album?


Ebay is a good source of old images of Essex towns and villages. If you're looking for pictures to add to your family tree album, then try one of the auctions, or there are several 'Buy It Now' shops offering postcards which have been touched up and improved - so if you're unsure about bidding, try these. Link already formatted for Essex Postcards. Browse through or type the name of the location in the Ebay search box.