One really excellent way to get yourself familiar with handwriting is to give a go at transcribing and indexing. It's also a good way to give back to the genealogy community. These records don't index themselves.
Transcribing is becoming a lost art. Once upon a time, the only way you could take home a copy of a record was to write it out by hand. Nowadays, you can save microfilm images to a USB, and depending on the archive, take a picture of a document. While this is quicker and handier, you should still give a go at transcribing. I'm the first one to admit that when I fine a new document, my excitement doesn't let me pick up all the details when I read through it. Transcribing the document word for word forces you to slow down and look at everything the document is saying.
Indexing is another great way to get familiar with handwriting. Take census records for example. There's set columns, so you know what information is going to be in each one. You can train yourself to look at the handwriting to make out words. How did the writer form the letters? Looking at the entries above and below can help you decipher whether that occupation is carter or cashier.
Indexing and / or transcribing a record set of a research area you're interested in can be invaluable. The obvious bonus is you might find your ancestors. An added bonus though is that the documents will give you sense of the community your ancestor lived in, and the families there. You'll get to know how they talked, and what their lives were like. This can be true of not only census, civil registration and parish registers. Transcribing a diary of a local person can tell you about everyday life in the community. Indexing newspapers also gives insight into the events and social activities that shaped how your ancestors' saw the world.
There are some great Canadian opportunities right now to join in indexing and transcribing:
- The one everyone is talking about right now is the indexing on Family Search of the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces. We have another 5 years to wait until the next Canada wide 1931 Census, but this is still a great record set for those with ancestors in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. You can find the link to the project here.
- Library and Archives Canada has a great program called Co-Lab, where you can help index or transcribe documents. They also have photo collections that need descriptions and tagging. The main page of Co-Lab challenges is here.
- The Nova Scotia Archives had started last year a crowd sourcing program called Transcribe. There is nothing posted in the way of projects that I could see right now, but the link to their page is here.
- The BC Archives is also looking for transcription volunteers. ou can see what projects are going on right now here.
- Ancestry's World Archives Project always has projects on the go. Check out the main page here.
- Contact your local genealogy or historical society. I can guarantee that if you call and say you would like to volunteer your time indexing and transcribing records, they'll jump to say yes. Some records will require you to spend some time at the society, but you might also be able to do things at home as well. Preparing for this blog post, I came across many local museums and archives' websites across the country asking for volunteers.
- Automated Genealogy is a volunteer website transcribing census records. They've branched out trying to index other record sets to link to the census records. You can see more details here.
- The New England Historic Genealogical Society has many volunteer indexing and transcribing opportunities. Don't be fooled by their name. They have many Canadian based items in their holdings. Their page on volunteering is here.
Give it a try. You don't need to block off huge amounts of time. Even just half an hour a week can make a huge difference in these projects. It's a win/win situation for everyone. The organizations get the help they need, and you get to hone your handwriting skills.