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Genealogy: Strategies for Interpreting Writings

Whether you are reviewing a letter, journal, postcard or other writing of an ancestor, there are several strategies for evaluating and gaining the most from the total presentation. Not only are you looking at the written word but you are also looking at paper, images and handwriting. All provide clues and information about your ancestor. The following represents different angles from which to view the writings of your ancestors.

Consider impressions by look and feel. As you hold the writings in your hands, they make an impression before you even read the words. You can glean information from the texture, condition, paper type, style of writing — which suggests the writer's care or haste — depth, surface, care of the folded sheets of a letter or the binding of the diary, and the time between inscriptions. The following clues can help you begin to make guesses about the writer, such as what their social class might have been:

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