Thursday, July 22, 2010

52 Weeks To Better Genealogy - Week 29 - Handwriting

The challenge for week 29 of 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy written by Amy Coffin is:

Practice reading handwriting. Deciphering the penmanship of our ancestors is an exercise in patience, but this is a great skill to have in your genealogy tool box. Kimberly Powell has some good suggestions and links on deciphering handwriting. To get some hands-on experience, look at an old census page and try to transcribe the first and last names of each person on the page. If you do not have access to census pages, go this Family Search Records page, click “Browse Images,” and select a census page on which to practice. If you have a genealogy blog, write down your experiences with this challenge or provide tips, links or book recommendations on this subject to your readers.

Kimberly's article is right:"The best way to get good at reading old handwriting is to do it a lot." I have found that participating in the Family Search Indexing Project has helped me to decipher old handwriting better.

This past month I have been gathering my ancestors' wills and transcribing them. As I go I am becoming more familiar with the language used and that has helped me to make sense of the words written.

Family Search also has online classes available about reading handwritten records. They cover a large range of different languages and styles. They have an English series about 1500-1700 handwriting. I wish they had one on later handwriting as well.


  1. I too have been transcribing a lot of Wills of my ancestors lately for "Amanuensis Monday". One of them I already had a transcription of for many years, done by another genealogist. When I received a copy of the actual Will I found dozens of mistakes in the other guy's transcription..many that were probably hard for a beginner but were now easy for me. I have come a long way!

  2. It is absolutely true that you have to keep up the skill, or you lose it. My paleography professor warned all of us of this, and he was right. It took me a while to get back up to speed for my current project, but it does get easier as you go along.