Great document discovery! Now if only you could read It…

Found that Last Will and Testament?  Death Certificate?  Congratulations!

What?  Not so fast?  You can’t read all of it?

You think you know what it says, but that town name, cemetery, last name, just isn’t clear.

  • First, what’s your best guess at some of the letters?  Take a look at the entire document and try to find those letters.  Do they seem consistent?

Thomas Beaver? Bearieu? Beavew?


 Look at other words or names in the document:  Ed. Morgan


Using that as a comparison (and several others), the name appears to be Thomas Beaven, not Beaver, Bearieu, etc.

Finding additional documents may help to confirm this (is the address the same or in the same neighborhood?  Same people living in the house?)

  • Try Google.  If it’s a town name you are looking for, try to Google what you think it is.  If you are close, it may give you a suggestion:


Of course these are fairly easy examples.  

Some documents can be pretty difficult to decipher.  I received a death certificate recently and I am still trying to figure out the hospital name (since I can’t find any hospitals in Chicagoland that start with an ‘L’ other than Loretto or Loyola, I’m not sure it’s a hospital name or even an ‘L’ for that matter).

Midlothian, Breman, Xxxxxxxx….

Williams, Annie Sarah Death Location

It can also be difficult if the document is in Latin (or another language).  
Please make sure you have a good magnifying glass.  Your eyes will thank you!

Zielinski-Stefanski Marriage

Practice does make perfect, though – the more you read and research, the easier it becomes.

It’s also a terrific find when your ancestor has actually signed a document:

Galkowski, Frank Signature

Still not having success?  There are various resources available to you:

  • Cyndi’s List has a good variety of websites – here.  The General Resources link is a good start.
  • Brigham Young University Script Tutorials may be found here
  • – Reading Older Handwriting – here
  • Ancestry Tips for Reading Old Handwriting (has some good examples) – here
  • Don’t forget to ask your fellow researchers as well!

About Our Lineage

I invite you to join me as I share my journey of successes, surprises, and of course, disappointments. All belong to my passion called Genealogy.
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10 Responses to Great document discovery! Now if only you could read It…

  1. Script tutorials! I love your list of websites for deciphering handwriting, and I have copied it! Thanks! There are so many instances in reading handwriting when I find myself “halfway there,” looking for that last tiny wiggly but definitive clue … Thanks for the websites!

  2. Mom says:

    Sounds nutty, but sometimes works…I turn the page upside down to read faded out or overly fanciful script. I’ve also had luck with saying a name (surname or placename) to a group of children and having them write their version of the correct spelling…or having them transcribe the “handwriting” into what they think it says . I found Rippmans transcribed as Rissmans that way once !

  3. Laura Hedgecock says:

    Though it wasn’t my motivation for doing so, I found that volunteering for the World Archives Project greatly improved my handwriting-reading skills.

    • Hi Laura,

      Yes, you make an excellent point that I should have included. I’ve also volunteered in the past for an indexing project and found it very helpful as well.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting on this as I had overlooked it!


      • Laura Hedgecock says:

        You’re very welcome. I like your bog. My passion is helping folks to write about their memories (at Once I get my blogroll to work, I’ll contact you about listing this blog and reciprocal links.

      • Laura,

        Thank you so much for such nice words! I’m glad you are enjoying my blog. I am really enjoying it and it has also caused me to look at all my information that I’ve accumulated over the years a bit differently, which is good. I’m finding new discoveries in old things!


  4. Pegleg Web Designs says:

    Looks like my husband’s handwriting! But, I know what you mean with old documents and trying to read them!

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