Handwriting and spelling

From Ramsey St. Michael's register. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office.

From Ramsey St. Michael’s register. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office.

  • As with any old document, you come up against handwriting and spelling conventions that are unfamiliar. This can particularly be a problem with the oldest registers, but can also be an issue just if you happen to be unlucky enough to encounter someone who had bad handwriting!
  • I follow the conventions laid out by the FreeREG project for my transcriptions. If I am unsure of a letter (it might be a K or it might be an H), you’ll see it expressed in the transcription as [KH]. If I think it might be a C, but I’m not entirely sure, it is expressed as [C_]. If I can’t make out the letter at all, but I’m confident it’s just one letter, it is expressed as an underscore: _. If I think the name is, for example, Susan, but I’m not 100% sure, I put a question mark after it: Susan?
  • A potential problem with the transcriptions being put in alphabetical order is that any surname which starts with an unclear letter will appear at the top, eg.[C_]ARTER. Always check the top of the document to see if your ancestor has ended up there.
  • Be aware that spellings are very fluid. In the Wivenhoe register for the 1600s, there are the Theedum and Feedum families. They are quite possibly the self-same people! So make sure that you check soundalikes: eg. If the name begins with Th, also check names beginning with F. Also see my video on Essex pronounciation.
  • Tip: On a Windows computer, you can hold down ‘control’ (usually the button on your keyboard just says ‘Ctrl’) and the letter F on your keyboard together, and a search box will appear on your screen. This is a useful way to, sort of!, turn the transcription spreadsheets into a searchable database.
  • The search box on this website searches the text on webpage – it doesn’t search the PDFs as well. One way to get round this is to do an “advanced search” on Google. The option to do so doesn’t appear in the initial search screen, so fling in a random word, and on the results page, you’ll see a cog on the right-hand side of the screen. Click this and the option for the advanced search will appear. The first section will ask you for the words you’re looking for, so enter a surname here. The next section “Then narrow your results by…” has a box saying “site or domain”. Type in essexandsuffolksurnames.co.uk. Google will pick up every incidence of the word you’re searching for on my site – either text on a webpage or in a PDF. Note that because spreadsheets separate first names from surnames, you won’t be able to use the Google advanced search to look for whole names, e.g. a search for “Henry Gardiner” won’t show up GARDINER Henry appearing in two separate cells in a spreadsheet. Sorry!
  • Please, please, please try to go back to the original document before adding information to your tree. This is easily done with the Essex registers, because scanned images of the original registers are available to view for a charge. My aim is to provide complete transcriptions, rather than a bare index, but it’s always best to check: I try to be accurate, but I am only human!
  • For more help with learning to read old types of handwriting, see The National Archive’s online palaeography tutorial, and also Alf Ison’s A Secretary Hand ABC Book.