Column: Decrypting Old Handwriting

Between today and Wednesday, my genealogy column, Roots to the Past, is available in the following Atlantic Canada newspapers:

Saturday: The Citizen (Amherst)

Saturday: Times & Transcript (Moncton)

Wednesday: The Lunenburg County Progress Bulletin (Lunenburg County)

Title: Decrypting Old Handwriting

Snippet: As I stared at the scribbling in a census record on the computer screen, my young son stopped and looked over my shoulder. “How can you make any sense of that?” he said. I understood; I was once in his frame of mind. But after years of reading bad handwriting in old census records by male enumerators who either scribbled carelessly or scrolled fancifully, I’ve learned a thing or two about deciphering hen scratching on paper.

First, let me give thanks to those individuals who carefully printed or neatly cursive wrote entries into old documents, so even someone who had no experience reading them could understand. You were rare, and you are still appreciated by the many researchers who gaze upon your fine penmanship.

To the ones who didn’t seem to care: I’ve wasted hours and much energy on thinking and rethinking what a word might be.

“Irish,” I blurted to my son, my eyes finally seeing through the century-old writing to recognise the word the enumerator—who I won’t name—scribbled.

“Where did you get that?” my son asked.

. . . To read more, pick up one of the above noted newspapers.


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