Paleography, or the art of deciphering ancient writings

Considered as an auxiliary science of history, paleography is a discipline that maintains close links with genealogy. The term derives from the association of the Greek words palaios ("ancient") and graphein ("to write"), and refers to the study of ancient manuscripts, the history of their origins and their modifications over time. Palaeography differs from epigraphy, dedicated to the study of inscriptions. Depending on the alphabet used, it is organized into several categories: our cultural area corresponds to the so-called Latin palaeography.

Have you ever heard of the lower case letters Merovingian and Carolina? Or even gothic script? Indeed, there are different spellings of the "same script". Before the 18th century, the letters used were very different from ours. It was Jean Mabillon (1632-1707), a 17th century Benedictine monk who initiated the idea of ​​a systematic study of the history of Latin writing. In the sixth book of his diplomatic treatise, entitled De re diplomatica, he draws up a first "classification" of the different scripts (many of which are still in use today) and names them. Since the beginning of the last century, research in this field has focused on the study of what are called "schools of scriptures".

Paleography and genealogy: processes and issues of collaboration

  • To "transcribe" a document is the act of reproducing a text in Old French (or Latin), restoring the abbreviations.

  • The "ductus", that is to say the way of writing, "the order and the way of tracing the letters", is unique to each person, and therefore of variable quality.

Since he goes back in time by investigating individuals through various and sometimes very old documents, the genealogist is confronted with abbreviations, expressions, spellings or vocabulary from a past era, whether to know how to read, understand and reproduce in our contemporary language. Some documents are highly standardized - such as parish registers or several notarized documents - which is why only solid knowledge or research into the contexts in which they were produced can shed light on them.

Concretely, genealogy therefore uses this discipline to decipher the morphology of the letters of the texts that it studies during a search. By proposing a transcription of said document, the analysis that follows may allow him to propose an interpretation. It is then possible to obtain information on the geographical origin of the document, the date of its production and the cultural and social context in which it was produced.

Transcription service

    • Marriage contracts
    • Receipt
    • Sale
    • Proxy
    • Transport
    • Wills...
    • Baptism records
    • Publication of banns
    • Marriage certificates
    • Burial records...
    • Acts of Faith and Tributes
    • Confessions and enumeration, etc.
    • Manuscripts
    • Autograph letters