Reading Early American Handwriting

How many fields of study does a genealogist need to become an expert in? Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. But be honest, the study of genealogy requires, to some degree, the study of history, sociology, anthropology, paleography, and more? Wait a minute, paleography, what is that? “All I want to do is my genealogy.” If you feel this way, you are not alone. But research is really a learning process, one that never stops. Oh, and as for paleography, it is the study of ancient writing. I suppose ancient is subjective. The Universe is ancient, sometimes I feel ancient, yesterday could be ancient history; so, let’s agree for this discussion that ancient means not modern, or before typewriters and computers.

Until very recently, in the measure of human history, records and documents have been kept by hand. Like language itself, handwriting was constantly evolving. Forget the nuances of individual penmanship, certain standards of character form have always existed. In other words, most people of a given historical period and place formed their letters and wrote their numbers in similar fashion. Reading Early American Handwriting examines handwriting in and around America’s colonial period.

This book, by Kip Sperry, is designed to teach the reader how to read, transcribe, and understand handwriting found if early American documents of genealogical interest. Chapters take the reader through the formation of letters with sample alphabets, reviews of common abbreviations and terms used in colonial days, a look at dates and calendars and how these have changes, as well as how to read early documents. Information is concise and easy to read. Each chapter is short but clearly defines the material for easy absorption.

The first 100 pages cover just about all one needs to study decipher early American records. However, Sperry knows that practice is the true key to success. Thus, nearly two-thirds of the book are given over to sample documents and transcriptions. Every two facing pages shows a sample document of genealogical interest, and of varying size and form, with a full transcription on the opposite page. This allows the reader to get in and practice deciphering and transcribing these documents, then comparing their results to the author’s transcription. By the time a genealogist finishes this book, they can count themselves an expert in yet another field of study.





1. Reading Early American Handwriting

2. Guidelines for Reading Old Documents

3. Abbreviations and Contractions

4. Terms

5. Numbers and Roman Numerals

6. Dates and the Calendar Change

7. Sample Alphabet and Handwriting Styles

8. Accreditation and Certification

Appendix A: Using Archives and Record Repositories

Appendix B: The Internet and Compact Discs


Documents and Transcriptions


Order your copy of Reading Early American Handwriting from Family Roots Publishing; Item #: GPC5513, Price: $32.34.

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