At some point in our genealogy, most of us will have to “cross the pond.” This means searching through records in another language that are often handwritten, with penmanship that can be difficult to read. Fear and trepidation set in. We fear that if we can’t learn to read those German church records or Italian civil records, our genealogy will stop at the Atlantic Ocean.
The good news is that we don’t have to entirely learn a new language to read those foreign records. Armed with a few vocabulary words, handwriting examples, outlines of the record formats, and a good dose of determination, we CAN read our ancestors’ birth, marriage and death records in their original language.
One place to get started is the FamilySearch website. Search their Family History Research Wiki for words like “handwriting,” or “word list” and the language your record is in. Also, the FamilySearch Learning Center has videos and slide presentations on researching your ancestors in other countries that will also give you help in reading and interpreting those old records.
Another place to go for help in understanding records in foreign languages and unfamiliar handwriting is Brigham Young University’s course on paleography (the study of old writing). Their Script Tutorial provides anyone access to word lists, handwriting examples, and templates of records.
Don’t be daunted by records in other languages or unfamiliar handwriting. You are a genealogist! With these tools and a little perseverance, those cryptic records will reveal their secrets to you and further you on your genealogy journey.