One of the few people in the world able to “read the illegible” lives and works on the Isle of Man an island rich in romantic scenery half-way across the Irish Sea.

Linda Watson discovered that she had this extraordinary capacity to interpret old handwriting, incomprehensible to most people, some ten years ago when a cousin asked her to help him decipher a family will. Thus her professional career as a transcriber began almost by chance. But her exceptional talent did not go unnoticed. Ever since, she has received continuous requests for transcriptions of old manuscripts and documents, especially inventories of assets, such as a noblewomen’s clothes, wills or letters found in the attic. Apart from the intrinsic difficulty of reading the single words or syllables, often written by semi-literate people, her work is often hindered by the poor condition of the documents. Stained, cut, burnt, yellowed with time. Nevertheless, Linda approaches each new text with great patience and dedication since, as she herself declares, it is like reassembling a jigsaw puzzle, where a piece may seem one thing at the beginning, but little by little it turns out to be something else.

Today, Linda Watson has many collaborators and runs a transcription agency specializing in old English, Latin, German and Spanish. Even the British Library has turned to Linda for the deciphering of certain writings by famous poets such as William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley. There have been many attempts to create an IT programme that could do at least part of the deciphering work, but so far no computer has been able to “read the illegible” as Linda can.

From: Atlas Obscura