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How to Read Names on Badly Written Vital Records

Imagine you're searching through a collection of old, hand-written vital records. You're winding through a reel of microfilm or clicking through a collection of images.

I'm familiar with the names in my ancestors' towns. So I can identify these names with zero hesitation.At last you find what you want: the marriage record for your 2nd great grandparents. Eureka! Now you can learn the names of two sets of your 3rd great grandparents.

You grab a magnifying glass or zoom in on the document, eager to see those new names.

But what do they say? They're almost completely illegible. You aren't sure of any of the letters!

What would you do? I've seen people share an image on Facebook, asking for opinions on a hard-to-read name. Time and again, the people who can read the name with authority are already familiar with the exact name.

That's the answer! I've been documenting vital records from all my ancestral hometowns for years.

I'm pretty fast at it. Why? Because this practice helps me decipher even the most sloppily written names in no time.

Scientists say we're able to read by recognizing the shapes of words. That's why it's easier to read this THAN IT IS TO READ THIS.

So, get familiar with the names from your ancestral hometowns. Then you'll find it easy see the difference between:
  • Chiusolo and Ciusolo
  • Anzuino and Anzovino
  • Ferella and Ferrara.
And bonus! If you're examining a small town, there was no doubt a lot of intermarrying. You may find you're related to the majority of the town! So it's worth your while to learn those names.

This image shows some examples of names that didn't slow me down for a second—once I made myself familiar with the town.


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