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Deciphering Scandinavian Gothic Script

What you think is chicken scratch tells a lot about your family and the people who lived in their communities. If only you could learn to make sense of it! Here are some tips to help you decipher what was written.

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Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Mindy Lunt
Word Count: 585 (approx.)
Labels: Ethnic  Library 
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Old Scandinavian records can be very frustrating to any researcher. Throw in the fact that they are in a foreign language, one you may believe the writers made up, and you have the perfect situation for frustration and despair.

Well, don't give in to despair. There are ways of seeing past all the scratch to what was really meant in the records. A few keys are helpful when it comes to reading old Scandinavian Gothic script.

You will want to become familiar with words common to the type of record you are studying. There are times when you cannot make individual letters out, but if you are familiar with the words that were used for the different events and can make out parts of them, you can usually fill in the blanks. Genealogy word lists are available online for many countries. To find them, go to a search engine such as Google and type in the words "genealogy word list." You may have to limit the search by specifying the language you would like. Print out the ones that appear to be the most helpful and keep them handy when you are studying documents.

In addition to learning common words, it also helps to know the alphabet of the country. The alphabet for Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is similar to the English alphabet. The only difference is that they add some extra vowels: æ (ae), ø (oe), and å (aa). Each of the vowels may have variations depending on the country and how the recorder chose to write them. In the early records, they are usually written in their long form (the form in parentheses).

Although there was a standard alphabet, each person had an individual style. When you begin looking at a document you will want to become familiar with it and determine the layout. This will help when you are trying to decipher what those words are and what they mean. For instance, looking at early christening records, you may see that the priest began an entry with the christening date in the left margin, followed by the feast day in Latin, and then mention the father's name and occupation, that he had a son or daughter who was christened and then give the name of the child and underline it. The priest may then name who carried the infant and the names, occupations, and residences of the witnesses.

Entries like this will differ on information given. They could include the mother's name, the actual birth date, and legitimacy of the child. You will want to determine what format the priest chose to use. When you know the format that was followed, it will help you determine what words might be in use.

Once you determine the layout and begin picking out words that are associated with the event, you can understand what the record is telling you. If you run across a letter that is unfamiliar to you and cannot make out the rest of the word, it helps to compare that letter or word to another on the page that may be written or photographed more clearly.

Practice is what will make learning how to read Scandinavian Gothic script easier. As you learn the shapes of letters and words, it will help you be able to spend more time on the uncommon words that often give the interesting details in the records.

The important thing is to get in there and begin. The chicken scratch will remain chicken scratch unless your eyes learn to see it in a different way.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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