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Basic Handwriting Tip: The Long S

Deciphering old and faded handwriting is a common challenge for genealogists, especially for those just beginning their quest. Certain letters seem to have their twin counterparts, such as the capital S and L, the small t and c, or of the captial W and M.

The letter S is its own challenge, especially when there are two of the letter in a row. For example, to the untrained eye, the surname below looks like Crofs. The surname is actually Cross.


This is a typical example of the old style S, also known as the long S, the double S, or the long-tailed S. From Kip Sperry's Reading Early American Handwriting we learn that "the first s, or what is known as the leading s, was usually followed by a more regular looking or modern s." This style is seen in records through the middle of the nineteenth century.

When I was a beginner, I struggled to understand where Asa Clark Brown actually lived in 1840. The census seemed to show that he lived in Scrubgrafs Township:


This is another example of the leading s. Some other examples are:

Maps = Mass [Massachusetts]

Mifsouri = Missouri

Sufsana = Sussana

Additional helpful resources

Why couldn't they have just used a computer in the 1500s? Sure would make our research a lot easier. :)


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