Article On Deciphering Old Handwriting

I saw this article on a genealogical site that explains strategies for deciphering old handwriting in documents. If you have been having trouble read this and see if it helps. I had independently developed similar strategies. Among them, type the words you recognize, try to establish the context and then go back and try to fill in other words. Also, feel free to share other tips or post questions here.


  • Super helpful, Henry - thanks! In addition to these tips I might add:

    1. Look for similar letter patterns elsewhere in the same document (or in other letters by the same author).  This will help solidify the shapes of certain letters.  Often 19th century "R's" can look like "E's" for example, and identifying a letter shape in a word you definitely know can help ID those words you don't.

    2. If I can ID some letters within a word for sure, then I often use the online "Free Dictionary" to identify words with these letters - for example, all words beginning with "sci".

  • Great tips Diane. I use tip #1 frequently especially when seeing a new handwriting. Context is key too. There is no harm trying to find a word that would fit and then see if the word written looks like it. The other tip I recommend is to take your time. It is better to work hard on one page and get it as close to complete as possible than to have multiple pages needing much work. After all, we are not getting prizes for the number of pages we work on but are working to make history accessible to the public.