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Making sense of old handwriting

Introduction to Catalan Paleography


About this Website

This tutorial will introduce you to basic record formats; that is, it will focus on the specific information contained in each record and locate where the information may be found. It will also attempt to provide and make more accessible linguistic and grammatical information about Catalan to those who are new to this language.

Old Catalan Records

Reading old records that are written in Catalan is not the same as reading a modern text, say, an article in the daily newspaper. The average reader with an intermediate knowledge of Catalan or one of her sister languages: Castilian, Portuguese, or Galician, will quickly realize that in older records, scribes may have included words that do not match their modern equivalents, either because they were misspelled or because they are from dialects or other languages that were spoken in the region. Other variations result from the Latin influence when writing in Catalan.

Besides having to become familiar with a different set of words and grammar, the enterprising research will have to contend with other difficulties such as old handwriting style, unfamiliar abbreviations, misspellings, archaic letters, and bad reading conditions - ink blots, torn pages, etc. Yet, despite the challenges, reading and understanding these records is possible and greatly rewarding. This tutorial provides examples of these common challenges the average researcher will encounter and provides assistance to overcome them. Below are various pages to help with specific topics:

LanguageHandwritingLatin InfluenceAbbreviations Numbers

This tutorial also provides various glossaries and reference charts. While learning to read and get accustomed to Catalan records, it is helpful to keep these glossaries open for quick reference.

While the challenges involved in working with these old records may cause concern, researchers will find that they can extract valuable information in a very short time and read longer texts with further patience and practice.

Types and Formats

When the majority of the genealogical records were written, the inhabitants of Catalonia and her dependents were almost entirely Catholic. Therefore, of all the records on this site, Catholic records are the most important for family historians and genealogists with Catalonian ancestry. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church required that each of its parishes keep records of the sacraments, baptisms (christenings), and marriages performed in the parish. The church also prescribed the form in which these records, or parish registers, were to be kept. In the nineteenth century, Spain adopted civil registration laws, which also included the province of Catalonia. These laws prescribed their own standards on the form and content of birth, marriage, and death records.

Although the specific requirements for keeping registers have changed from time to time, the formats have stayed basically the same. This tutorial will introduce you to those basic formats; that is, it will focus on the specific information contained in each kind of record and where in the record that information is usually found.

Those just beginning to learn to read and understand old Catalan records should go to Techniques and Tools on the sidebar and read each of the pages there. Then, go to Record Types under Documents to learn more about specific records. Those with more paleographic experience can go to a specific document type in the Document Gallery for a sample that is transcribed and translated with explanatory notes and commentaries about that document type and its essential components.

We recommend studying these sections thoroughly before reading old manuscripts. Doing so will help you be more confident in your ability to understand these records and minimize misinterpretations or missing the information for which you are searching.


Paleography Introduction