Some Guidelines for using the Slave Trade pages
At first glance these documents can seem unreadable, and look very unfamiliar.
This pack includes transcripts of the handwritten documents, to provide some help at the beginning. Before 1800, the majority of documents are written very neatly - but not always using familiar letter shapes:For example a "long s" which looks very like an f is used in early printed as well as handwritten sources. Even after the "short s" we use today became common, many people still wrote double s as fs rather than ss.
The consistency of the handwriting helps in understanding a document. Once a shape is correctly identified it can be matched in other parts of the document - rather like cracking a code!
However, particularly after 1800, difficulty in reading a document can have as much to do with bad handwriting as unfamiliar letters.
Standard spelling is a relatively new idea, and some of the words found in older documents can look bizarre to modern eyes. If the word is read out loud, it is often transformed!
Some words have either changed their meaning altogether, or fallen out of use. However, large dictionaries contain many redundant words, and there are other helpful reference books in the library, such as guides to particular trades or dialects.
Understanding why the document was created and how it relates to other documents in the collection can transform your understanding of the information in the document.
The lists of the documents often have helpful introductions written by the archivist who listed them and will show you what else the collection contains. The staff on duty in the search room are happy to answer questions. You may even need to look at similar examples to help identify the background to the document. You may discover something new!