Skip to Main Content

By The People Transcription Project

Help transcribe Library of Congress historical documents. Volunteers create and review transcriptions virtually to improve search, access, and discovery of these pages from history.

Books and Articles for Further Reading

Kirkham, E. Kay. How to Read the Handwriting and Records of Early America: The Reading and Interpretation of the Handwriting, Symbols, Abbreviations, Legal Terminology, etc., as Found in Original Records and on Microfilm for Researchers in American Genealogy. II edition. Deseret Book Company, c1964. ( : accessed 12 January 2022)

The full text of this book can be read for free from the FamilySearch website, but you must create a free account to access it.


Marshall, Hilary. Palaeography for Family and Local Historians. 2nd rev. ed. The History Press, 2010. ISBN: 9781860776519. 

For the solitary researcher or a member of a class or local society, this will be the standard work upon which to rely for many decades to come. Family and local historians frequently encounter the challenge posed by the writing, and sometimes the translation, of the records which might most enable them to make further progress with their research. Based on some 50 facsimile reproductions of documents of graduated difficulty, culled from many useful sources, it provides transcripts, and translations where appropriate, together with advice on methods of transcribing. The alphabet, with commentary, of the numerous types of letter to be found in the examples (many being in the secretary and court hands which so often cause problems), and illustrations of forms of abbreviation will greatly help to unravel the difficulties of reading.


Sperry, Kip. Abbreviations & Acronyms: Guide for Family Historians. Rev. 2nd ed. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2003. ISBN: 9781593310264. 

Lists of abbreviations and acronyms, along with alphabetic symbols, initials, contractions, and shortenings of words listed alphabetically as found in genealogical and historical sources. Many listings include brief explanation of abbreviation and acronym. This work is an ideal reference source for genealogists, historians, reference librarians, and others who work with abbreviations or acronyms.


Sperry, Kip. Reading Early American Handwriting. 1st ed. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1998. ISBN: 9780806308463. Available at La Crosse Public Library and UW-La Crosse.

This book explains techniques for reading early American documents; provides samples of alphabets and letter forms; defines terms and abbreviations commonly used in early American documents such as wills, deeds, and church records; and, furthermore, presents numerous examples of early American records for the reader to work with. 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. 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.


Stryker-Rodda, Harriet. Understanding Colonial Handwriting. Rev. ed. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2002. ISBN: 0806311533. 

"In genealogical research it is all very well to locate original records, but to read them correctly is another matter altogether. Few people know this better than Harriet Stryker-Rodda who, after years of experience searching through colonial records, has developed a simple technique for reading colonial handwriting. In this handy little book, Mrs. Stryker-Rodda presents examples of colonial letter forms and script, showing the letter forms in the process of development and marking the ways in which they differ from later letter forms. She also provides a comparison of English and American handwriting and examples of name forms and signatures all to bear out her central thesis, that the reader must find meaning in a group of symbols without needing to see each letter of which the whole is composed. This excellent guidebook is indispensable in dealing with the problems of reading and interpretation"--Publisher website (August 2007).


van Zuylen, Sybille. "Bibliography: 19th-20th Century Penmanship In The USA." Penna Volans blog post, c2022. ( : accessed 12 January 2022)

An extensive bibliography, with links, to many publications on handwriting and penmanship.