Paleography tips – #1: How do I get started?
You’re thrilled to have finally found an old manuscript containing the name of your ancestor! But now that you’ve deciphered that one name, you are faced with the question: how should an amateur researcher tackle the rest of the document?
Your first task should be (even if this is almost too obvious to mention) to carefully note down where you found the document, so you won’t have to search the same place again just because you don’t remember what you’ve already looked through. Also make notes on what you know about the document, who has written it, where, when, etc. If there is a so-called regesta (a very short summary made by the archives), copy that as well.
The best is to take a good resolution photo of the manuscript, meaning that all the letters are clearly legible when you zoom into the photo.
The first step of reading is observing the handwriting. If you know some letters, e.g. based on the name that you already know, then those will probably look the same in the whole document written by the same hand.
Don’t try to guess individual words. It is unadvisable to only build upon the similarity with modern letters in just one word.
Always look at the other parts of the text, relying on the words that you already know for sure, to check whether your interpretation is correct.
For this reason, if you ask others for help in reading your document, always send them a whole page or more from the same hand, or a link, if you found it on the internet.
We wish you the best of luck in your research,
Judit and István
P.S. Have you found a Hungarian, Latin or German text and don’t know whether it is worth translating? We can make you an abstract from it! You can learn who wrote it and to whom, when and where it was written, as well as what it’s about, so that you can decide whether or not you want to have it translated. For details, see our webpage: http://historiatranslation.com/abstract/.