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BYU Course Outcomes

  1. Students will learn the most common scripts (hands) and documents in use in Britain and its colonies between 1500 and 1850.
  2. Students will read, transcribe, and where necessary, translate documents.
  3. Students will demonstrate transcription techniques and methodologies.
  4. Students will analyze and explain the cultural, historical, and legal context for documents, the scripts used in them, and the coverage and availability.

Course Objectives

The major objective of this course is to help train you to read the handwriting of early English documents, so that you can do research using primary, handwritten sources. Since this is a beginning course, it is not possible to deal with all types of documents and all styles of handwriting. We will focus on secretary hand, which is a good introduction to early English handwriting. Many documents useful to the family historian and genealogist were written in this hand.

The second objective of this course is to expose you to some English and Scottish sources which will be of value in your research. (The Irish sources are equally valuable, but, unfortunately, there is little available for the time period covered by this course. Those sources which have survived are written in English hands and do not differ significantly from those examined in connection with England.) These sources, such as parish registers and wills, will be in English and written in secretary hand. Most official documents, such as court records, were written in Latin prior to 1733. Some examples of court records will be used, but they will be selected from those written after 1733 or those few documents written at least partially in English prior to that date. Some of these will be written in italic or round hand (explained in lesson 1).

The third objective is to teach you the proper methods for transcribing documents. Skilled paleographers try to make exact transcriptions, with the spelling and punctuation (or lack of it) left as they appear in the document. If you wish to “modernize” a document by spelling the words according to modern standards and adding punctuation, you may do so on your own, after you have transcribed the source as it appears.

Course Materials


No texts are required for this course. This course manual itself may be used as a reference book, particularly when supplemented with the material listed in the selected bibliography in Appendix B and the following recommended texts.

Some of these are reference books and should be available at any good public library.

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This course consists of eleven lessons. Each lesson will include an instructor-graded assignment with a document or documents to be transcribed, plus questions on the material discussed in the lesson itself. This will be submitted for a grade. In every lesson, there are Self Check questions, which are answered in the Answer Key. These are designed to help you master the fundamentals of the lesson and to provide a way to measure your progress and your grasp of the material in each lesson. Beginning with lesson 2, each of the Self Check questions will contain all or part of an original document to transcribe. In this way you can compare your transcription with the answers provided to determine how well you are doing.

Please do each of the Self Check questions. You will learn a great deal more, and you will be better prepared to read early English documents than if you skip over these exercises and do only the required assignments.

A word of caution, however. I would prefer that you take the time to work through each required document slowly and carefully in order to make your work as accurate as possible. While it is important to do accurate work, you should not become overwhelmed by it. As long as I can verify that you seem to understand what you are reading and transcribing, you will be given credit for your work.

Please submit your best work as resubmissions are not allowed.

Formatting Written Work

You will submit your completed assignments to Independent Study electronically through your course. To make sure that I can open and read your assignments other than 2 requests for you to write/trace letters, all work should be submitted as a Word document (.doc, docx). You can cut and paste the questions for each assignment into a word document if you wish, then add your answers to the document.

I recommend you use the course number, your first and last name, and the assignment name for the filename. For example, HIST421_JaneSmith_Assignment1.docx.

In some cases you’ll need to scan or take a photo of work you’ve completed for this class. When this occurs, please make sure to save your image as a .JPG file and make sure that it is legible before you turn it in to me.

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The final exam will consist of three parts:

If you have prepared your assignments properly, according to the instructions and procedures provided in each lesson, you should have no trouble with the final exam.

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The completed assignments will count for sixty-six percent of your final grade (see breakdown below), and the final exam will count for the other thirty-four percent.


Percent of Grade

Lesson 1

6 percent

Lesson 2

6 percent

Lesson 3

6 percent

Lesson 4

6 percent

Lesson 5

6 percent

Lesson 6

6 percent

Lesson 7

6 percent

Lesson 8

6 percent

Lesson 9

6 percent

Lesson 10

6 percent

Lesson 11

6 percent

Final Exam

34 percent


100 percent

Grading Scale

The final exam and each assignment you submit will receive a letter grade:


































E (fail)



These grading percentages are only a guideline. I do allow a certain flexibility with the transcriptions, depending upon the difficulty of the handwriting involved. Consequently, while you should endeavor to work hard and complete these assignments and the final exam within the time allotted, you need not be unduly concerned about grades.

I am sure that if you complete your work and are prepared properly for the final exam you will receive a good grade for this course. Please turn in your best work.

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Copyright Notice

The materials used in connection with this online course are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated. Any copying or further dissemination of these materials may be subject to applicable U.S. Copyright Laws. For questions or more information, please visit the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website.

“Members of the BYU community who willfully disregard this Copyright Policy or the BYU Copyright Guidelines place themselves individually at risk of legal action and may incur personal liability for their conduct. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject individuals to civil and criminal liabilities, including actual and statutory damages, costs and fees of litigation, fines, and imprisonment

Violations of the Copyright Policy may result in university disciplinary action including termination of university enrollment or employment.” (Emphasis added. Excerpt taken from the BYU Copyright Policy)

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University Policy - Title IX Statement

Preventing & Responding to Sexual Misconduct

In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Brigham Young University prohibits unlawful sex discrimination against any participant in its education programs or activities. The university also prohibits sexual harassment—including sexual violence—committed by or against students, university employees, and visitors to campus. As outlined in university policy, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are considered forms of "Sexual Misconduct" prohibited by the university.

University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of Sexual Misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of Sexual Misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day).

BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by Sexual Misconduct, including the university’s Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at or by contacting the university’s Title IX Coordinator.

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Accessibility Notice

BYU is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere which reasonably accommodates persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate in BYU's programs and activities. In this spirit, BYU Independent Study aspires to improve web accessibility for users. While not required by law, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A and AA provide a wide range of helpful recommendations to make Web content more accessible. BYU Independent Study strives to apply WCAG 2.0 recommendations where feasible, but may deviate from any recommendations that would result in an undue hardship to BYU Independent Study or alterations to program and course content and objectives. If you have questions about accessibility, or if you need to report problems with any accessibility features please see our Accessibilities and Accommodations Web Page.

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