Apart from wines: Paleography (Part II)


So, who wants to know when some words were written? What is the use of doing that? To answer that, I first want to share a story - actually an experience of myself.

Some years ago, I was involved in a project at work. I was sent to Utah in the United States by my boss. Why me? Two reasons: I practice western calligraphy, and I type fast. I guaranteed you, in Hong Kong, if you tell someone you are a calligrapher, that sounds like you are an artist and you will then be linked to the idea that 'you don't earn much'. If you tell someone you type fast, that sounds like you are a typist and (again) you will then be linked to the idea that 'you don't earn much'. So neither one of them would be considered as having some valuable skills.

Well - but with both of the skill sets, I was sent far away to the middle of US on a business trip. Plus, there was basically no one else in the company who could take over that. No one got such skill sets combined! So, those skills which were almost of 'no use' were turned into opportunities and my valuable assets!!

So, what I had to do there? And what was the project about?

There were two objectives: first, I got to do a typing test there and see how fast I could type (I couldn't do it online because no one knew the effect of the transmission rate of data via the internet line. So I had to be physically there to type with the system there.); second, I got to learn reading those so-called 'ancient writing'. As someone who knew calligraphy, it is easier for me to learn the basics about 'ancient writing'. So, that was my first encounter of the term 'Paleography'.

If not because of such experience, I bet I would never have thought there were people who really study the ancient writing, and what was the reason behind the study.

The reason of study was to trace our family lineage, and know our family story, plus history. Those doing these studies are the genealogists. They are the one who study genealogy, which is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. And Salt Lake City in Utah is more like the centre of such study in the world.

To trace the lineage, there were thousands of ancient records which the genealogists would refer to. Examples of records are census reports, birth records, death records, passenger list on board sailing to other places. Since these records are all hand-written, and there were abbreviations to understand and decipher. So there came the use of 'Paleography' - first analysing the writing, then understanding the words written there. Hence, with further analysis of the words identified, the family lineage could be traced.

While everything is now being digitalized, and with the development of search engine - all records got to be turned into TYPED ones. So, my typing speed has become the benchmark of the data centre doing typing jobs. As someone who learnt some basics of paleography, I got to teach the typists how to read the ancient words after I came back to Hong Kong. I also had to do a training manual on Paleography.

So that was it.

Today, I still remembered when I was in Utah, I was taken to the archive centre to see those original copies of records. I was really amazed to see thousands of real records from ages ago. Some records were turned into microfilms for archive, because the originals were too fragile. I have been reading all those calligraphic hands in books, but then all a sudden, those real ones were in front of me!

Apart from the surprise seeing all those, it was amazing that the 'unwanted' skills (calligraphy & typing) have brought me to learn something about the extraordinary subjects: 'Paleography' and 'Genealogy'.


P.S. To view the 'digitalized database' of family lineage, please click HERE for link to the UK site, or HERE to the US site.

Also, click HERE to read the profile of Abraham Lincoln and the related record images, so then you will have better idea about 'Paleography' and 'Genealogy'.

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