It’s hard to begin working on any puzzle if you’re dealing with damaged materials. Perhaps the ink is blotchy, a stain obscures words, or the ravages of time or poor storage have faded the writing. To resolve the document’s condition, experts suggest these strategies:
- Use a magnifying glass to better see faded or fine script.
- Scan or take a digital photo of the document, upload the image to your computer and magnify it.
- Use photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop (Photoshop Express is a free version) to adjust the contrast of a scanned document, possibly illuminating faded ink.
- To enhance the readability of a blotchy or stained document, historians examine it under an infrared microscope. Try using a home video camera with night vision, which also employs infrared technology.
- To see impressions left when ink has completely faded, turn out the lights and shine a flashlight onto the document at an angle. Then transcribe the impressions.
- When viewing microfilm, place light-colored paper on the projection surface.
“The real problem has to do with literacy levels,” says Heidi Harralson, a certified graphologist and document examiner, and owner of Spectrum Consultants. “The higher the person’s literacy level, the more uniformity.” How someone pronounced a word also affected how he spelled it. Again, practice reading someone’s writing will help. Familiarize yourself with some of these common spelling irregularities, too:
- Using y for i; for example, fyne instead of fine.
- Interchanging i and j (Iohn for John)
- Interchanging u and v (neuer for never and vnto for unto)
- In Colonial-era writing, an elongated s—which resembles an f—in words that have a double s (pafs for pass)
- A single consonant where you’d find two in modern English (al instead of all)
- A double consonant where you’d find one in modern English (allways instead of always)
- ff for F
- the thorn, an Old English symbol that represents a th sound. The thorn looks like a y in writing, so ye means the (this is where “ye,” as in Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, comes from).
Our early American ancestors typically used three types of abbreviations:
- Contractions, which remove letters from the middle of a word, may substitute a tilde (~) or an apostrophe for the missing letters: dec’d for deceased
- A writer would lop off half a word and sometimes add a semicolon, colon or period to form a shorter suspension: wid. for widow
- Abbreviations with superiors are shortened words featuring the final letter in superscript, such as Abm (Abraham).
More common abbreviations include:
- do for ditto
- chh for church
- sd or sd for said
- rect for receipt (what our ancestors often called a recipe)
- f. for son of and fa. for daughter of (derived from Latin)
Audley, I also have forgotten the date but that makes no difference if year is correct. Now if this [is] not what you like
I will gladly make any change you wish. I have a very pretty old oak frame hanger & in good order for sale at $50, if you know of anyone who would like it, I would be so much obliged if you would mention if for me.
It came from Mt. Vernon. Of course there is no picture in it has an old [engraving] that bust to pieces I am sorry to say.
I am so glad to hear that dear Mrs. Hamilton is improving and trust she will [____ to ____]. With kind regards.
Very truly yours
C. R. Lewis
No. 8 ______ McDonnell, [Lt.]