How do I get help reading handwriting while indexing or viewing records?

When you use historical records, you often have to decipher handwriting. Handwriting styles can differ over time and in different places. The individuals who wrote the records have their own unique styles. You can find many resources on FamilySearch and elsewhere online to help you read handwriting. Learning to decipher the old handwriting techniques and characters of earlier times is a skill that takes time, practice, and patience. Help is available.

Handwriting samples

On FamilySearch, the Handwriting Helps page has in-depth examples has a chart of different types of handwriting for each letter of the alphabet.

You can also use this resource while indexing. Simply click the Handwriting Examples icon:


  • Try not to assume; be sure that what you are reading or typing makes sense. 
  • Look through the document and compare how similar letters and numbers were written. If one or two letters are difficult to read, look for the same letters in familiar words that can be read.
  • Look for similar letters in another batch by viewing reference images side by side.
  • Enlarge the view of the original document.
  • Use letters from words that you can already read to piece together some of the rest. 
  • Use the writing and letters of months as you determine the writer’s style.
  • Create an alphabet chart with examples of each letter style, if needed.
  • Keep in mind that places and names could be misspelled because words were often written phonetically.
  • Pay attention to commonly confused letters:
    • Uppercase: F-H, J-I, K-R, S-L, O-Q, P-R, U-V, W-M-UU
    • Lowercase: b-f, d-el, j-i, k-t, s-l, t-c, ss-fs-ps, w-vv, y-g

Learning resources

  • On FamilySearch, click the question mark icon. Click Help and Learning. Search for lessons and other resources.
  • Check online to find online tutorials, blogs, or other handwriting helps, such as the following:
    • Brigham Young University offers a free online tutorial in reading old typeface and handwriting. The course is in English and covers English, German, Dutch, Italian, Latin, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
    • The National Archives of the United Kingdom also offers free online tutorials on reading old documents in English and Latin.
    • The National Records of Scotland publishes a free online tutorial on reading Secretary Hand.
    • The Ancestry Insider, an English-language blog, has a post titled Indexing Tips: Cursive Writing. You see three common types of handwriting used in historical records. Click the images within the article to view additional information.
    • Treasure Maps Genealogy, also an English-language blog, also provides helps and examples for reading old handwriting.

FamilySearch does not support or promote the resources and blogs. We provide them as resources for our users.

Additional Help

The Double "S"

The double "S" or leading "S" can look different in writing names, such a Ross, Sussana, Clarissa, Douglass, Chesster, Massachusetts, and others.  See the examples.


Subtle Difference between Double "S," Long "S," and "F"

Bossett, JohnThomas Whissall: WilsonSighinolfi Pasqua

Double "S"Double "S""F" showing the cross stroke above the letter

Quick Guide to the Letters "S" and "F" in Various Languages

The distinction between a lower case "S" and a lower case "F" is often difficult to see in handwritten documents. Here are examples of each in several alphabet samples:


Italian example.png



Scandinavian Gothic






How do I index unreadable information?

Was this helpful?