A skill that I had to develop as a result of getting further back in time with my genealogy research was to learn how to read the documents of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Obtaining Wills of my ancestors of the 1600s and early 1700s was really exciting and learning the language and style of writing in these periods by comparing one Will or Indenture to another went some way to deciphering some of the poorer script, but I discovered that many of them contained abbreviations and symbols that I did not understand. Therefore I turned to the Internet and found that the About.com Genealogy had a good tutorial page on Paleography – Deciphering old Handwriting. It was from this webpage that I learnt about the standard abbreviations and the standard way in which to type up the transcriptions of the abbreviated words. I was able to work through some of their interactive examples on deciphering old handwriting.
Reading the old Indentures introduced me to unfamiliar words such as ‘seizin’ and ‘appurtenances’ and ‘messuages’, so a little more research lead me to a website which explained the terms and their meanings. I found the early eighteenth century documents quite easy to read, however, the below example is one Will that I am still only able to read about 25 percent of. It is the Will of one, Margerie Pye, and dated 1627. One of the difficulties of documents written in this era is that the writers’ tended to scrunch their words together when approaching the right hand margin in order to squeeze as many words onto the line as possible.
The script in Margerie’s Will is very flowery – ‘a’ looks like ‘d’ and ‘h’ looks like ‘g’. The only reason that Margerie had a Will at all was due to the fact that her son, Homfrie/Humphrey, was a Scrivenor in London, never married and had accumulated a number of properties which he bequeathed to his widowed mother and siblings. Homfrie wrote his own Will, and it very easy to read his script, he died in 1624 just three years before his mother. Margerie’s Will was largely to confirm the legacies that Homfrie had left to his siblings.