Reading difficult handwriting
Transcription Deciphering Pointers
A census page written by more than one hand is unusual. It is possible
though to compare the style and construction of handwriting to other
entries on the same or adjacent pages.
If you are having difficulty in deciphering a name, browse the image
or adjacent images to confirm whether or not the formation of the
letters is the same as that in other names.
The census enumerator occasionally spelt names incorrectly. It is
better to record the entry as written by the enumerator. In some
cases, where for instance parents have broken with tradition, the
name is correctly spelt even though it may be different from the
norm. For example, two relevant but different spellings of the name
'Claire' exist. Or should that be 'Clare'! The records will still
be locatable due to the sophistication of the search tools employed
by the Genealogist.
It can take a while to get accustomed to how a particular enumerator
wrote. First names are more readily recognised and so give a basis
as to what letter shapes an enumerator uses. When trying to interpret
a line you should look at the line above, follow any ‘descenders’
down and try to interpret the names without the clutter of ‘descenders’
from the line above.
If a name is particularly difficult to read you will need to assemble
a range of names from the possible letters.
As a general guide the following rules apply:
- Letters such as p, f and q normally have straight descenders going below the line.
- letters such as y, g, j are likely to have loops to the left where as letters that swing to the right could be f or q.
- Look for the crosses on t and the dots on j and i
- Look for straight strokes of l
If you can’t distinguish a forename don’t forget to look at the column the age is written in to check the gender of the person and their position in the household. “Dau” Daughter , “Son” etc.
Consider all the information given about the family to verify you have found the person you are looking for. Don’t forget: early census material may show a different surname spelling to a later one; as literacy improved these variations reduced.