Best Tip to Decipher Your Ancestors’ Handwriting

Do you have trouble deciphering your ancestors’ handwriting?

(Me, too!)

Best Tip to Decipher Your Ancestors' Handwriting

Transcribing wills, deeds  or our ancestors’ letters or dairies can be difficult.  The writing is small. The letters are made differently.  The ink can be smudged.  Then the terms and words used may be archaic or used differently than today.  It can all add up to a bit of eye strain.

My ancestors were prolific letter writers.  They were also “pack rats.”  (Thank goodness!) As a result I have many, many letters written by their own hand or that of their friends. Transcribing the letters was a large project that revealed much about their lives  and personalities. My ancestors were had just the basic education.  Deciphering the men’s handwriting and spellings was particularly difficult at times. Just as I have gotten to know my ancestors through more formal genealogy records, I came to know them through their own words and handwriting.

That is the point where transcription moves from frustrating to fun!

1923 Letter of Hattie Richardson to Boss Talbott of Halifax County, VA

These are some of the more unusual spellings I have come across so far in my transcription project.

bin = been

youal = you all

heare = here or hear

amagun = imagine

feal = feel

thank = think

ant = ain’t

chirch = church

Notice the mis-spelled words make perfect sense when pronounced phonetically.

My Best Tip for Deciphering Your Ancestors’ Handwriting

Think Phonetically  (Sound it out!)

When a word or phrase confounds you, try sounding out the word as it is spelled or phonetically. While the word may not make sense the way it is written, it may sound perfectly clear when said out loud. As our teachers used to tell us in elementary school, sound out the word.

Additionally, if you are familiar with the accent or dialect of the area where your ancestors lived, sounding out the word as it is spelled and using the accent will help you even further.

Need more help? Check out my recent post How Picmonkey Will Aide in Your Genealogy Research.

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