October 23, 2014

Tricks to Deciphering Old Handwriting

This question came from Allison

Are you able to decipher this Place of Residence from an Army Record?

 Olive Tree Genealogy response: Without seeing the entire page or pages to compare letter formations and without knowing the country of origin of the original record, I can only give my best "guess". I believe the entry might be "Chelsea and Essex" 

This is a good time and place to explain that when you are trying to decipher challenging handwriting there are a few simple methods you should use.

1. Compare other words and letters in the record. For example in this case, how does the scribe make an upper case "C" - is it the same as the word I believe is Chelsea? What about upper case "E"? How does he write a double "s" (ss) Does it look like the word I think is Essex? You may have to look a few pages ahead or before to get a good overall comparison of letter formations used.

2. Print the challenging bit. Put a blank paper over it and trace it (do this several times) Then look at your tracing. Often the words or letters become clear. 

3. Consider the record source. What country is it for? That will help you figure out possibilities for locations. Even better if you know a more specific area. For example if I know a record is for the County of Simcoe in Ontario Canada and not for Kent County in England or New York State in USA I can narrow the possible location names in the record.  Also different countries wrote their letters in different ways. German writing for example is very different from American or British.

4. It helps to know the date of the record. Handwriting changed over centuries and thus a word written a certain way in for example 1630 will not be written the same way in 1730 or 1830 and so on. 

If Allison wants to send me the complete page I'd be glad to take another look but for now I have to go with "Chelsea and Essex" So my assumption is that this is a U.K. record of some sort but it would help to know the source of the record

UPDATE: I love that my readers are way better than me at reading old handwriting! Chelmsford Essex was given by many and I believe they are correct. Thanks everyone


Candace said...

I read it as Chelmsford Essex

paperquilter said...

Hi -- my own take on this entry is "Chelmsford Essex"
--Liz H.

Steve Baldock said...

I think you'll find it says 'Chelmsford Essex".
The writing just happens to have left a bit of a gap between 'Chelms' and 'ford'.
Also, as you correctly determined, the second word is 'Essex', using a 'long S' as the first of a pair, which was the norm.

smj said...

I think it's Chelmsford Essex

Peg said...

Hmmm. I would have said Chelmsford, Essex.

Liz said...

I'm guessing it says "Chelmsford, Essex," and that this is a UK individual.

Donna said...

Chelmsford Essex

There is a Chelmsford in Massachusetts and an Essex County but Chelsmford is not in Essex County. I suppose it could have been once but I don't know. Lots of Massachusetts towns are named after ones in England.

Randy Seaver said...

I think it's Chelmsford Essex.

Diane Scannell said...

I see Chelmsford and Essex

bgwiehle said...

A technique I use, especially when the descenders and ascenders of different lines intersect, is to copy the image to Paint, zoom into the difficult area, and carefully remove anything that is definitely not part of the word(s) in question. A variant method is to apply colour to distinguish different words. You can also cut & paste particular letters from elsewhere in the document for easier comparison. For this kind of manipulation, always work with a copy, never the original.
BTW, I too thought the image said "Chelmsford Essex."

Hilary Gadsby said...

Chelmsford is in Essex in England.

Harry Carson said...

Chelmsford, Essex.
Also, Chelmsford was a military garrison town.
Any other 'answer' is incorrect.