New Help Articles

As part of our efforts to improve the keying program and the resources available to contributors we are writing a series of new Help articles.  Based on the feedback we have received the first article in the series is “Tips for Reading Old Handwriting“.  This article gives you tips about letters that often look the same and also includes images of names and words that start with each letter of the alphabet. 

Part of the fun of transcribing records is the investigative work that is involved in reading the records.  We hope that this article will give you a good start in recognizing the clues that will lead you to the correct transcription.  

Upcoming articles will be focused on project specific helps and tips.  In these articles we will address questions that have been asked on the message board, the blog and that have been sent to our support team.  We hope that the addition of these help articles will provide you with the resources that you need to assist you in keying each project.

Information and Links

Join the fray by commenting, tracking what others have to say, or linking to it from your blog.

Other Posts

Write a Comment

Take a moment to comment and tell us what you think. Some basic HTML is allowed for formatting.

Reader Comments

Helpful examples. A tip not mentioned. An l usually has a loop at the top while an uncrossed t rarely does.
Some documents carry later markings which may give rise to faulty keying.
For example, I have seen the figure 1 entered as 7 in the index to a census because of a line added as a check mark on the enumeration sheet. Similarly, an l has become a t.

Thank you for responding to our cries for help!

Keep the tips coming…this article was very helpful to me!


Thanks. There were a couple of combinations I didn’t recognize, but most I have encountered and figured out. It was a helpful article. More would be appreciated.

Helpful examples. I did run across the double “s” a few times that looked like “fs”. Now I know better. thanks.

I have a few more easily confused combinations

cl -> d
le -> b, h
ee -> u, n
rn, nr -> m

y -> g (not everybody closes the tops of their gs)

a -> u (sloppy penmanship, unclosed a)

u -> n (some styles write their ns and ms upside down)

m-> w ”

S -> L (for some styles)

I -> J , sometimes the only way to tell them apart is to look at the next letter. If it’s a J, the next letter will almost always be a vowel, if an I, it will usually be a consonant. If left alone… pick J based on statistics.

In some styles, M, L, and H are often written with a large loop at the end that looks like an e, Where in fact, the loop is just part of the letter.

This is a very helpful article.
Just to remind other keyers, there is a handy drop-down handwriting comparsison table on the menu when you are transcribing. Another tip I’d like to pass on is, when the word or letter is difficult to read, try adjusting the contrast to make it darker. You can find it on the top tool-bar under ‘image’ or there’s an icon on the menu that you can click on. This has worked for me on many occasions.
Sitting back from the screen often allows you to see the word or letter clearly or, if all else fails, go make yourself a cuppa & come back to it….often you can see what you’ve been missing after a break!

I agree with Jane M, especially with the ‘darkening’ of the screen – I just ‘push’ my laptop back, and I agree with the ‘going away and coming back to it’ school of thought.

All good fun!

This was very helpful.. Taking a break is also a great idea. I tend to swith back and forth from American records to English records, very helpful I think, the English had beautiful penmanship. Soooo much easier to read than American chicken scratch. The English records were so well written, it takes about 3 minutes to go through a whole set.

Hi, I don’t know if I am in the right place for this question, but can someone please tell me the secret of setting the “form position” when we are about to start keying? I m havig quite a bit of trouble withn this and taking to much time trying to do so.

Thank you, Jeanne