Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tips for reading in parish books

I have gathered some tips how to handle the reading in old parish books. It's not easy - the writing is totally different from our writing, we are not used to it. That's why we need quite much of practice to handle it. Here are some tips how to handle it faster.

Search the registry backwards
It's natural, isn't it? You start with information from 2nd half of 19th century and you go back in time. Do the same with the parish books. Don't force it to find directly the record you want to find. First of all, take a look on the registry. How are the records sorted? Which families were living in the village you are researching in? What are the most common names, surnames and places? 

It's easier to read the records from 2nd half of 19th century - so if you get to know the parish well, it will be easier for you to read older records because you'll already know the names, surnames, places, occupations and so on. 

You can also find some records which could be interesting for you - siblings of the person you are searching for, information about other relatives and so on and so on. 

Try writing in kurent
Searching for specific name and surname? Try writing it down in the old script, kurent. Table of kurent letters can be found here. It's not going to be easy for first few times, but you'll get used to it. And you will also get an idea how the name and surname looked like so it will be easier for you to find it among those other records.

Read it from the end
If there is a word hard to read, try reading it from its end. Sometimes it's easier to guess which word it is when you have at least few letters from its end. You can then search the dictionary of the most common words in the registries and the occupation dictionary to see if the word is there. 

I know that this is tip for those who are already stronger in Czech or German language as those two are the languages used in the registries. But combination of this "partial" reading and good dictionary can help too. So another recommendation - create your own dictionary!

Skip it
When you are pushing too hard, you'll sometimes get stuck. So - don't try too hard to read the word. If you have problems with it, just skip it and return to it later. It can happen that you'll gain knowledge of the letters after reading another records - and you'll be able to read even the words you weren't able to read before.

That's the basic one. When you search and read for too long, you'll be tired. Really tired. Take a rest, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, have some snack. Let your eyes and brain rest, recover from the research. Yes, it's funny - but it's true. So, don't try too hard!

Sometimes it's better to just leave the research for another day - I know it really well by myself. There are just too many things which can influence your concentration, your ability to read and to search. In such cases - just leave it for another time!

Professional help
Well, I have to mention it, right? :o) Sometimes it's impossible to read the records because of their poor quality. If you really want to have these records read, you can use services of professional genealogists. I'm offering service of record reading - if you are interested, visit my professional website.


  1. Funny that you say the second half of the 19th century is easier to read--it just looks like parallel lines to me, no matter how neatly it's written. The handwriting of the early 19th century and earlier is easier for me to read because it looks more like handwriting styles of today. But--you do have to start with what you know and move to what you don't, so there's sort of no way to avoid it. :)

    Completely agree with all your advice, though!

  2. The dictionary is such a great idea, Blanka. I am going to start one. There a periods of weeks to months, sometimes, that I go without doing any archival reading and I get rusty.

  3. Rose, with regard to the "parallel lines": I too find very slanted handwriting to be difficult to read. I sometimes copy the image of the writing into Microsoft Paint or Photoshop and skew it back 30, 40 or even 50 degrees, and it becomes easier to read.