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Making sense of old handwriting

Gothic Handwriting

Origins of Gothic Handwriting

Gothic handwriting was used by clerks and scribes as early as the fifteenth century and predominated in documents produced in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the countries of Scandinavia, well into the twentieth century. Historical research, including genealogical research, in original documents is impossible without the ability to interpret Gothic handwriting.

The Kurrent hand can be traced back to Roman letters, which were developed into Carolingian Miniscule which was the standard hand of the middle ages. Fraktur (though written, not printed) would develop out of the basics of Carolingian Miniscule, however Fraktur would be notable for its repeated and parallel strokes with its focus on height rather than width in each letter. A primer from the 16th century, developed by Johann Neudörffer, shows this hand. Out of the Fraktur hand also came Kurrent, the standard 'Gothic Handwriting' cursive. Connection and greater personality bestowed by different scribes make Kurrent notably quicker, and thus it was used more commonly. As you see different documents from different times, you will observe variances between regions and centuries. Various individuals attempted to reform and better the standard letters used by scribes; in 1714, Hilmar Curas created this primer that covers both Fraktur and Kurrent which was used in schools of the time. Later reform was brought about by Ludwig Sütterlin in 1915, notable for rounded, more vertical letters. This particular style of Kurrent is called Sütterlin (thus it is incorrect to refer to all styles of Kurrent as Sütterlin). Kurrent as the standard of German handwriting was phased out by Nazi Germany and was never restored after WWII.

The Kurrent Alphabet

Below is a full chart of Kurrent letters.


The Alphabet pages in this section will describe each letter of the alphabet in detail. Tracing animations on the Animated Letters pages will show you how each letter is written. Pictures from actual documents will show you real examples of each letter. Downloadable practice sheets (in PDF format) are also available on every page, and we encourage you to take advantage of them. Be sure also also to use the items mentioned on the Tools & Materials page.

Kurrent Over Time (In Switzerland)

Kurrent over time