Previous  Handwriting of our Ancestors  Next


This is a discussion of the difficulties of reading old handwriting as well as understanding the errors that occurred in previous interpretations of such handwriting. The arrows left and right of the page title will take you to further discussion on this subject. Use the arrows in the title to move back and forth between tutorial pages.

One of the challenges that I experienced was a the pronunciation and spelling of French names in south Louisiana. I found some French words in the census that I had not seen in a long time, such as:

veuve for "widow"
pére for "father" or for "Senior - Sr."
fils for "son" or for "Junior - Jr."

Many French vowels also contain accent marks to characterize pronunciation, such as the "é" (e with acute accent). This letter appears in many surnames, as well as in the above "pére".

Each person recording the census information may have had a different level of education. This could explain variations in spelling names, particualarly in the French language where they may have been on unfamiliar ground. I did find in the 1830 St. Landry census information that the census takers seemed to be familiar with the use of the French spelling of surnames, but made some mistakes when writing other names.  For example, "Johnson" is also "Jeansonne" in French and often the English "Johnson" became "Jeansonne" on the census, probably because a French census enumerator was more confident in spelling in French.  They did not foresee any problems in later years for researchers.  This same example became a reverse problem when the enumerator was non-French and wrote "Johnson" for "Jeansonne".