Reading and Understanding 18th– and 19th–Century American Documents

One of the best tools you can have is learning how to read old documents. This course teaches you to read and interpret the records yourself, instead of depending on someone else's interpretation of what a document says, which could be in error. 


Genealogy Professor


Access to original documents is at an all-time high. But we often rely on indexes or abstractions done by others that may not give us all the information we need. Reading old handwriting can be challenging. This is even more challenging for younger genealogists who were not taught to read even modern cursive handwriting. Learning how to read these documents allows you to review all the information and properly analyze it for yourself, potentially capturing important clues that were missed in the indexes and abstractions. 

Students will discover:

  • How people learned to read and write
  • Penmanship and hands used in different time periods
  • Letter forms
  • Spelling and punctuation
  • Transcribing as a reading tool


This is one of our self-paced courses. You can start whenever you like, and take as long as you  need to complete the course. Like all of our courses, you can access it on the computer or mobile device of your choice. The course takes on average 12–15 hours to complete (12 reading assignments, 7 videos, 4 tests, and 3 activities)


Course Outline:

  • Literacy and Learning
    • Schools
    • Writing masters
  • Hands and Handwriting
    • Handwriting and Penmanship
    • Writing instruments
    • Art of writing
  • Reading
    • Understanding documents
    • Spelling and Punctuation
    • Reading tips
    • Letter forms
  • Transcribing
    • Transcribing as a reading tool
    • Rules for transcribing
    • Transcribing example
    • Transcribing exercises