Reading Early American Handwriting


Author: Sperry, Kip
Publication Date: 1998
Reprint Date: 2008
Pages: 289 pp.


This book is designed to teach you how to read and understand the handwriting found in documents commonly used in genealogical research. It explains techniques for reading early American documents, provides samples of alphabets and letter forms, and defines terms and abbreviations commonly used in early American documents such as wills, deeds, and church records. Furthermore, it presents numerous examples of early American records for the reader to work with, for it is the author’s contention that by studying and transcribing each of these documents–letter-by-letter, word-by-word–readers will become proficient in reading and understanding early American handwriting.

Arranged by degree of difficulty, from relatively easy-to-read documents of the nineteenth century to those of the seventeenth century, the documents showcase examples of handwriting styles, letter forms, abbreviations, and terminology typically found in early American records. Each document–nearly 100 of them at various stages of complexity–appears with the author’s transcription on a facing page, enabling the reader to check his own transcription. This strategy allows the reader to attain proficiency in reading the documents at a natural rate of progression.

Also covered in the work, with particular emphasis on handwriting, are numbers and roman numerals, dates and the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, abbreviations and contractions, and standard terms found in early American records. In addition, there is a timely section on the Internet and compact discs, as well as an annotated bibliography of books and articles of particular interest to genealogists and historians. Taken together, these features describe a book that is absolutely indispensable in learning to read early American handwriting.

“The further back in time our research takes us, the more ‘plain English’ looks like a foreign language. That’s why Sperry’s ‘plain English’ guide to not-so-plain English writing is an absolute basic book for every genealogical shelf.”–Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS

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