Tutorial 3 – Examining French Handwriting

Trying to read an old French record might make you feel all is lost. Believe me, it’s not. To the English reader, it looks like scribbling with very little discernable letters. One town’s formed letters can be different than the town in the next department. But you can learn to read them. It just takes practice and time. I’ll go through the multiple ways one letter can look like, with some explanation and provide you with record examples. Then you will study the different ways a letter can be formed.

Things you need to know:

  • ‘u’ and ‘n’ are almost identical to each other. In come cases, the same formation are used for both letters
  • Uppercase ‘R’ can look like a V with a horizontal line through it
  • A “L” and “S” can look identical too . In some cases, the same formation are used for both letters
  • Two ‘ss’ can look like two ‘f’s or ‘fs’
  • ‘ch’ and ‘cl’ can look like one letter
  • ‘b’, ‘v’ and sometimes ‘g’ can all look alike, but there are small differences that you can detect
  • same letter formation interchangeable with ‘v’ and ‘t’
  • Can have the same letter in the same document written differently
  • If you can’t make out the letter, try a process of elimination.
  • some letters are impossible to make out because of the old French way of handwriting. You can make an educated guess by recognizing discernable letters in the word.

I will be using examples of mostly baptism records from a handful of departments of France, 1 province of Belgique and Quebec. For now, the time frames will rage between late 1600’s to 1792.

  • Calvados
  • Gironde
  • Hèrault
  • Loire-et-Cher
  • Marne
  • Meuse
  • Luxembourg, Belgique
  • Quebec, Canada

Again, I cannot stress enough to keep going and persevere through the jungle of scribbles. Do not give up. Take one letter at a time and look and study; then one two letter combination , look and study; look through your own records or take a random town from a department your ancestors to study from. You really need to do this frequently. You will see results in reading as you proceed.

After you come to a place where you can make out the letters in the vital information and more, you can keep it fresh, by indexing records at my favorite genealogy site, Geneanet

Click on each letter:

H J P R T V

(this is an ongoing project)

And if you need some extra help looking at these letters, you can always contact me

Now Onward to Tutorial-4Examining French Civil Birth Records –>

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