AncestorNews: Words Get in the Way

As a child of the typewriter/computer generation, I've always had trouble reading cursive writing. Even as a young adult, I'd ask my mom to read my grandmother's letters to me because I couldn't decipher several of her words. Imagine my dismay when genealogy research took me into 19th-century wills, 18th-century property records and the scribblings of your average census taker.

If, like me, you have problems telling an s from an f or figuring out the meanings of dots, curlicues and lines, I've found the perfect sites to help dig your way through old documents.

One of my favorites is Robert Ragan's Treasure Maps—a site that's been around the Internet as long as I can remember. The reason I like Treasure Maps so much is because you can see actual examples of old handwriting, along with lessons on interpreting samples on your own. One of the keys to success, according to this site, is remembering that our ancestors often spelled phonetically.

Another excellent online resource is an article called Old Handwriting that was reprinted in the Illinois Genealogical Society Quarterly. Here, you'll find examples of design variations for most of the letters, including the 12 different looks for the letter h.

For you European researchers, a must-visit site is Old Handwriting Styles. This excellent collection of handwriting styles has examples of letters from the 16th through the early 20th centuries.

If you really want to test your skills, surf over to a free online course in English Handwriting, 1500-1700. Although there may be more here than you ever wanted to know about old handwriting, consider yourself an A+ student if you can successfully work your way through all 28 lessons.

Good luck!