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Paleography: Interpreting Handwriting in Genealogical Research

Languages and Subject Headings

People often came to America in company with friends and relations. Sometimes this was a chain migration within a family, and sometimes they were joining a group that shared their ideals or culture. If you have ancestors that belonged to a particular ethnic group, look for resources to help you read documents in other languages and/or alphabets. Look for histories of those groups, the places they left, and the area they settled.

At the Library of Congress, there are specialist librarians who can help you with the paleography of European languages; Luso-American and Caribbean languages; Asian; African; and Judaic languages. These librarians will be located throughout four reading rooms, known collectively as the area studies reading rooms or the international collections. These reading rooms include the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room; Asian Reading Room; European Reading Room; and the Hispanic Reading Room:

  • African, Near Eastern (Middle Eastern), and Judaic countries and languages are handled by subject librarians in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room.
  • For Chinese, Japanese, Korean (North and South), Mongolian-Tibetan, South Asian and Southeast Asian languages and countries, see the librarians in the Asian Reading Room.
  • The European Reading Room has subject librarians for all European countries and their respective languages excluding Spain, Portugal (Hispanic Reading Room), United Kingdom, and Ireland (Main Reading Room).
  • For assistance on the countries and languages of Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Portugal, and other countries influenced by Luso-Hispanic culture, consult the librarians in the Hispanic Reading Room.

For example, the following communities in the United States which retained their own culture and language include Yiddish, German, French, Russian, Czech, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans. Yiddish materials would be located in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room; German, French, Russian, Italian in the European Reading Room; Chinese and Japanese in the Asian Reading Room. Materials on Indigenous people from Latin America would be available in the Hispanic Reading Room. The Main Reading Room handles items on Indigenous people from the United States.

Searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog

Subject headings are invaluable for effectively searching the online catalog. For the topic of this guide - paleography for the genealogist - below is just a small sample of the many different subject headings in the online catalog. Each subject heading listed here is hyperlinked and will lead you to books whose catalog records have the same subject headings. For example, you can find all books with the subject heading Paleography, English by clicking on that particular heading.

More subject headings can be explored by going to the Library of Congress Online Catalog "Browse". To search by subject heading, click on the "hamburger menu" at the top right corner of your screen (resembles three horizontal bars). A drop-down menu will appear. Select "SUBJECTS beginning with." In the search bar to the immediate right of the drop down menu, you can begin your search for subject headings.

If you need assistance locating books and other resources related to the renaissance, contact the Library through its Ask a Librarian service.