Reading Old Handwriting

Perhaps I shouldn’t be one to complain; in this day-and-age of using computers for everything, my hand-writing is likely even worse; but sometimes the writing on old records like census returns and birth/marriage/death records are really hard to read. You’ve got to feel for the people whose job it is to transcribe them for use on the plethora of websites now available for you to make your own family tree. Some of them, I’m convinced you can only decipher if you already know what it’s supposed to say.

Take place names, and worse still, house names; if you’re not from the local area where the places are being recorded, you’ve no chance of getting them right. However, they do a good enough job that someone local can work what it was meant to say, so I guess that’s half the battle.

Occupations are harder though; Sure the common ones are easy to decipher – with a tree of 5000+ people, 45% Knitters and 45% Fishermen, those I can spot. However, every so often I come across one that really makes no sense. In this one case it was transcribed as “Formerly Cond Trung Car”. Pardon? I thought, surely that’s got to be an error in transcription, that can’t be anything close to what was written. So I purchased the actual image the transcription was made from and it said …

Census Return Snippet

Undecipherable Occupation on an 1881 Unst Census Return
Parish: Unst; ED: 4; Page: 3; Line: 19

“Formerly Cond Trung Car”. Pardon?

OK, so I’m none the wiser. I’ve asked on some ancestry web sites and had nothing that rings true either. The most common suggestion was “Formerly Conductor Tram Car” but since there are no trams in Shetland, that seems unlikely. I personally think that “Car” is short for Carpenter, certainly I have seen it used for that before. And, I’ve toyed with the idea that “Trung” is Training, since the guy in question is aged 23, but I can’t work out what “Cond” is.

So I’m putting this out to the world. Does anyone have any idea what this guys occupation might be?

17 thoughts on “Reading Old Handwriting

  1. Not really, but alternative for the last word might be ‘Cor’ (miss-spelling of Corps?). Training Corps could make sense…

  2. Saw your link on GenealogyWise and came over to take a look. I have a couple of suggestions. Does the census indicate exactly where in Unst your ancestor lived? I checked quickly, and found three major ’employers’ during your period: fishing, boat building and mining. The Chromite mine on the island might have had a tramway for hauling ore… but conductor seems a rather glorious title for the operator or workers on such!
    Have you contacted the local museum/Heritage group with this? They might recognise from their wider experience of Island life what this means. Here’s a link:

    • I’m still hoping that one day I’ll come across a Newspaper story or some other old document that might shed some light on it. I feel bad posing what feels rather like a guessing game without having an answer to reveal after everyone has had a guess!

  3. From another source who read this:

    Comment by Carolyn Preston
    Depending on the age, and thinking sideways and squinting, I’m going with construction training carpenter. Not sure if they existed in 1881 but maybe it will start people thinking.

    • Hi Carol, thanks for the suggestion. If he lived anywhere else, I might be inclined to think that too, but unfortunately there are no trolley or tram cars in Unst (or anywhere in Shetland) so I’m still scratching my head on this one.

Morag would love to hear what you think. Leave a comment here.

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